A delightfully informative book about letters, their meanings, and the words and meanings we derive from them.



A poet, writer of children’s books and host of BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth tells the history of each letter in our alphabet.

Rosen (Fighters for Life: Selected Poems, 2007, etc.) shows a capacious curiosity and imagination in a work that, in lesser hands, would glaze the eyes of all but the most nerdy language freaks. He proceeds alphabetically (duh) but also in a sort of defiantly digressive way. For each letter, the author provides—in sort of dictionary fashion—some of its history, evolution, pronunciation(s) and, for many, some “sound play” involving the letter. Regarding N, for instance, Rosen mentions “ninny,” “no-no” and “nanny” (among others). These initial pages for each letter are informative and good for reference, but the remainder of each section is even better. For example, for C, he discusses ciphers, the Enigma code and even Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s spymaster. For K, he spends some time with Korean and with the recent YouTube phenomenon of “Gangnam Style.” S takes us into signs and symbols, from Morse code to the International Phonetic Alphabet. And Z? ZIP codes. Along the way, we learn about Beowulf, e.e. cummings, George Bernard Shaw’s disdain for the apostrophe, our fondness for initials, a bit about that old song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” the history of okay, the history of shorthand, why rhyme has an h, Noah Webster and the Urban Dictionary. Rosen also is mellow about “correctness” in usage and punctuation (“Our personal histories and feelings are wrapped up in what the letters and their means of transmission mean to each of us”) and shows little sorrow for the disappearance of handwriting in schools; in fact, he thinks our current emphasis on it doesn’t make much sense.

A delightfully informative book about letters, their meanings, and the words and meanings we derive from them.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1619024830

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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