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 New England schoolmaster, columnist, and bestselling author Lederer (Crazy English, 1989) offers an enthusiastic new assemblage in tribute to language generally and the English kind in particular. Sounding in turn like D'Israeli the Elder on curiosities of literature, William Targ on bibliomania, H.L. Mencken on words, or William Lutz on doublespeak, Lederer compiles a scrapbook that preaches, naturally, to those who are devoted to the wonder of words aggregated. There are tributes to heroes of our tongue: Shakespeare, Johnson (with incursions by Bierce and other witty lexicographers), Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, and George Orwell. In terms of one syllable, Lederer proves the power of short words. They can, he says, ``make a straight point between two minds,'' which seems a little hard to do, but you get the line. English isn't perfect, however: It's sexist (queens do not rule queendoms), lacks certain utilitarian words (what will we call the decade that will follow the Nineties?), and lends itself to redundant repetition, too, as Lederer cheerfully illustrates and shows. He likes libraries and letter-writing (citing St. Paul as a great correspondent). There's even a lesson in versification and examples of favored writing from his prep- school students. The text concludes with a few hundred pithy comments on words by practitioners from Aristophanes to Wittgenstein. A golly-gee skimming of the manifest wonders of ``the most glorious of all human inventions,'' not deep but easygoing enough to satisfy Lederer's legion of fans.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-70939-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991