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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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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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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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