Wajnryb is the grammarian you always wanted: wise, wearing her erudition lightly and enlivening it with sly, exegetic humor.

A classy drive through the streets and byways of swearing, from Australian linguist and journalist Wajnryb.

Wajnryb is out to have some fun here—witness the epigrams she concocted to introduce each chapter: “You want what on the fucking ceiling?” asks Michelangelo, while Amelia Earhart wonders, “So where the fuck are we?” As an applied linguist, she is fascinated by taboo language, and, while we’re treated to a wide array of foul word usage, she will also be delving into the semantics (meaning) and the pragmatics (context) of the usages. First, she identifies the meta-language of swearing—what cursing is as opposed to blasphemy, what epithets and expletives are, insults and invectives and oaths, what is obscene, what is profane, what is plain vulgar—only to wade immediately into the magisterial grammatical opportunities, the morphological flexibility, of the word “fuck.” “The word cunt,” on the other hand, “has never been innocent,” leastwise not for centuries, and a prime example of an inflexible swear word. Social usage, then, is Wajnryb’s concern as much as grammar is, and she will dissect the clean-equals-godliness equation with as much vigor as she might examine infinitives and gerunds. She explores swearing as meaningful verbal behavior, discusses its cathartic effect, identifies when it is abusive and when social and when it mingles the two. She notes the gender imbalance of expletives and the way snobbery and classism impinge on what is socially considered right and wrong in word use. She also takes on the word police, such as the Cuss Control Academy (an actual institute in Illinois), and shows how they are fighting a losing—not to say absurd and censorious—battle. The effect of taboo so often achieves its opposite: making words forbidden shows, like Prohibition, that people will go to extraordinary lengths to accomplish the proscribed, even producing gems like “frigamarole.”

Wajnryb is the grammarian you always wanted: wise, wearing her erudition lightly and enlivening it with sly, exegetic humor.

Pub Date: July 3, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-7434-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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