A well-researched, convincing account of how our language has welcomed foreign words—but not always their native speakers.



A scholarly account of the numerous French words that have entered and remained in the English language.

Scholar, a professor of French who has written a book on Montaigne, among other subjects, returns with a brief, focused account of some specific changes and adaptations in English. For the author, a key text is Marriage Á-la-Mode, a 1673 play by John Dryden that contains numerous instances of characters employing French and effectively “satirized French with a forked tongue.” Although Scholar acknowledges that the Norman invasion of 1066 certainly began the transformation process, it is Dryden’s play, he believes, that accelerated the move and made many aware of the various social, cultural, and class meanings of French-into-English words. Throughout, the author notes the ambivalence of English speakers about French. Does employing French indicate class, cultivation, and education? Or elitism? All of the above, argues Scholar, who also shows how the transference has affected art, music, and literature (he includes some reproductions of relevant paintings, such as Walter Richard Sickert’s Ennui (1917-1918). The latter half of the text illustrates the general pattern by examining three specific words: “naïveté,” “ennui,” and “caprice.” Scholar explores the history of each word—sometimes displaying a denseness and academic specificity that will dissuade general readers—and describes how it first arrived and how writers and other artists have employed it, from earlier centuries to the present. For the most part, the author alludes to writers and other artists whose names are generally well known, including John Le Carré, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, and Richard Strauss. But others will ring bells only with the cognoscenti. The author ends his volume with some reflections on emigration and immigration, discussing Donald Trump, Brexit, and the current hostile and divided political climate.

A well-researched, convincing account of how our language has welcomed foreign words—but not always their native speakers.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-691-19032-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.


An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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