As in most of his books, McWhorter proves to be a well-informed and cheerful guide to linguistics.




A brisk look at how and why words change.

In his 17th book investigating the variety, history, and idiosyncrasy of language, McWhorter (English and Comparative Literature/Columbia Univ.; The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, 2014, etc.) enthusiastically makes the case that language is fluid. “It’s always a safe bet that a word will not be tomorrow what it is today,” he writes. Language is “something becoming rather than being” and “ever in flux; the changing is all there is.” To support this idea, repeated throughout the book, McWhorter offers myriad, and often fascinating, word histories. The word “silly,” for example, evolved from meaning “blessed” to “innocent” to “weak.” Some words narrow or broaden their meanings: “apple” once referred to all fruit, and what we call “meat” used to be “flesh.” The author devotes much discussion to “literally,” which originally meant “by the letter” but has gained “purely figurative usage” to mean something closer to “actually.” McWhorter is not bothered by this drift in meaning, but he realizes that some people are. “If the way so many people talk is okay, then what counts as a mistake?” he is often asked. He concedes that individual misuse or mispronunciations can’t be defended, but he is on the lookout for widespread changes. “Nuclear,” he writes, is pronounced “nucular” by some who, he suggests generously, may be modeling it on such words as “spectacular” and “tubular.” Tracing patterns of changing sounds, the author notes that when verbs become nouns, the accent shifts backward: “It’s why someone who re-BELS is a RE-bel.” McWhorter also offers an intricate, if not fully convincing, etymology to defend the ubiquitous use of “like” in popular speech. Although he posits “no scientific grounds for considering any way of speaking erroneous in some structural or logical sense,” he does acknowledge “that some ways of speaking are more appropriate for formal settings than others.”

As in most of his books, McWhorter proves to be a well-informed and cheerful guide to linguistics.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-471-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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



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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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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