WORD WATCH

THE STORIES BEHIND THE WORDS OF OUR LIVES

A skilled lexicographer draws on her Atlantic Monthly column about the latest words to present a vocabulary for the fin de siäcle. What's the word for ``sexual activity conducted interactively in cyberspace''? It's teledildonics, states Soukhanov, executive editor of the 3rd edition of The American Heritage Dictionary. She precisely defines this and hundreds of other neologisms, doggedly sniffing out their lexical sources (mahosker ``just may be of Irish or Yiddish origin or of both''). The euphemisms, acronyms, homographs, portmanteaus, and in-your-face babble used by the hippest bumbos, quant jocks, and airy-fairy boy toys from Edge City to Club Fed are laid bare before us. More rap than music, these words may be emblematic of our society at the end of the 20th century; they speak of our values. Our obsession with health, for instance, has led to a proliferation of specialties, such as emporiatrics (travel-related diseases), and emphasis on gender roles to use of the word wife as a verb. Some of the coinages, like informate, narcokleptocracy, and schmooseoisie, have a leaden ring, and their continued currency seems dubious. A few others (morph, glass ceiling) may have already buzzed their way into our lexicon for good. Most, though, are surely nonce words, trendy and ephemeral. And most, to add to the fun, are not self-explanatory— or as the author puts it in the case of a verb compound, ``its unitary meaning cannot be deduced from the meanings of each of its constituent elements.'' Along with her evident professionalism, Soukhanov can sling the slang and pitch the kitsch with enough gusto to entertain any reader interested in the morass of new lingo that defines our lives. A detailed investigation of some loose words—most not yet entombed (so to speak) in dictionaries—by a pro who talks the talk.

Pub Date: June 7, 1995

ISBN: 0-8050-3564-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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