Help! I have lost a book. The truth is, I know where it is in a vague sort of way. One of you has it. I recall loaning it after a scintillating discussion on the Norman conquest and the resultant dramatic changes, and rapid growth of the English language.
The book at the left is not the title in question. I'm looking for The Miracle of Language, by the same author. Yesterday, I was intently ghost writing a magazine article for a friend, when I needed to reference some archaic term. Naturally, I knew my source would be Lederer. On my bookshelf, I was able to locate all his books except the one I needed.
Generally, I am a fickle reader, moving from author to author, genre to genre, but when it come to Lederer (and Sedaris) I am devoted groupie. Lederer's works often came in handy while I was teaching, and I still use them when I prepare for various workshops in the area. Check him out if you are a word junkie, or if you enjoy challenging and twisted word games http://www.vebivore.com/.
The Miracle of Language (the missing manual!) strays from his standard collections of captured misused phrases, and the hundreds of examples of the little winks and smiles sprinkled throughout our language. The essays in "Miracle" are more academic exploring the nature of language as it relates to class, social expectations and assumptions. He discusses the evolution of words, and the biases and prejudices they carry. Sound too dry? It really isn't. OK, maybe for a nerdy, ex-English teacher this is stuff crafted in paradise, but at the rate his books sell, I know there are droves of you closet wordaholics out there! So, if you have my book, please return it. Don't make me rent space on the side of milk carton to get it back.
While looking for the deeply missed volume (yes, I know I am beating a poor horse to death, but I love that book) I came across a rotten melon called Fractured English by Norton Mackridsge. Warning - DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. It is filled with innocuous statements and debasing examples that, I am afraid, were quite acceptable when the book was published in 1965. He dedicates a full chapter to the inane things that "housewives" say. The author begins, "Housewives, as we know, are useful in a number of ways. But now they have a new honor - the greatest of them all. My surveys prove that housewives as a group are the most prolific and dependable producers of Fractured English, wounded words, dizzy dialect, loony language, and idiotic idioms."
If that's not enough, he continues by writing about the wife of an ad exec, a friend of the author, who keeps a journal of his wife Jane's sayings. Mockridge writes, "For years he has compiled a log of her better efforts. He calls them "Janisms" - and he reads them at parties. People howl at them and Jane, a beautiful blond with a college degree, sits and smiles her appreciation, and sometimes she says, 'Gosh, I'm happy to be spreading a little sunbeam.'" I am not kidding - it all there right on page 13.
Read Richard Lederer for a wittier, more intelligent look at language...but before doing that, dig through your attics, look under you beds, check your bookshelves, glove boxes, winter purses, basement storage bins, and underwear drawers...find my book!
Noted authors have given their suggestions for quality summer reading. You can find the list on www.harvard.com/onourshelves/summer.html.
What am I reading? Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris , author of Chocolat (movie stars Johnny Depp) its sequel, The Girl With No Shadow...and lots more.