A WORD IN YOUR EAR by Philip Howard


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Another 30 of Howard's short columns on language-and-usage from the Times of London--which, though occasionally informative or archly amusing, lack the offhand charm and timely impact of William Safire's similar jottings. With literary allusions galore, Howard defends the use of anachronism as ""fun and an act of the historical imagination, as well as a solecism to dull pedants."" Elsewhere, he is less easygoing, though he almost always winds up accepting the inevitability of incorrect usage--from ""hopefully"" to ""cohort"" (as a singular comrade) to ""fraught."" (Until the last few years, ""things or people had to be fraught with something, not fraught absolutely, on their own."") But, though mildly engaging on the over-broad usage of such transatlantic phrases as ""Catch-22"" and ""double-bind,' a good many of Howard's word-musings are of little interest over here: cricket jargon, ""toe-rag,"" ""whelks,"" ""bike"" (as an epithet). Moreover, while some of the attempts to reflect both English and American usage raise a smile (""I have never been sure if this kind of American gas means a fart, or a burp, or both""), Howard stumbles badly when discussing newly-minted US proverbs. (He boldly states--incorrectly--that a certain proverb, actually in use for many years, was ""created"" in 1978.) Stylish, but unremarkable, with only a little over 100 pp. of text: a thin treat, primarily for Anglophilic word-fanatics.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press