BUCKLEY: THE RIGHT WORD by William F. Buckley Jr.


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A whimsical miscellany that is essentially what Vaughan (Buckley's editor at Doubleday), in his introduction, calls it, a "book on language," although it does not hold itself opprobrious, reprehensible, or peccant for wandering off topic. Letters, essays, interviews, speeches, and columns by National Review editor Buckley (Brothers No More, 1995, etc.), along with some letters written back to him, explore subjects as varied as the origin of Buckley's fictional spy Blackford Oakes, subjunctives, Norman Mailer, and the Roman Catholic Church's abandonment of the Latin mass. Of course, Buckle), does hold forth on fine points of English usage, but even he has his limit, as demonstrated when one correspondent, after taking exception to Buckley's usage of "momentarily," explores various "sleazy blunders in word usage." Buckley's response: "Aw, lay off, fellas." Such moments of humor, generously sprinkled throughout, do much to give the book its appeal. For example, Buckley experiments with translation software by using it to render two brief notes into French and then back into English, with predictably hilarious results. Of the interviews, there is a particularly memorable one with Jorge Luis Borges; discussing his admiration for English, the great writer notes that its Latin and Germanic roots give it "two registers." There is a group of reviews, including one of Henry James's travel writings, which Buckley adores (the prose is "so resplendent it will sweep you off your feet"), and one of the movie The Right Stuff, which, he says, lacks the "leavening humor" that Tom Wolfe's writing brought to the subject. In a chapter of obituaries, Buckley pays respect to a range of people, from Claire Boothe Luce to his own mother. An appendix of "Buckley lexicons" will attract only those burning to know how Buckley uses terms such as "matrix" or "pertinacity." In all, an assortment to entertain even some language lovers who find Buckley's politics less than amusing.
Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-45214-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996


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