Safire charms yet again with his lively interest in our language. ""Norma Loquendi,"" that fickle lass whose name the author translates as ""the everyday voice of the native speaker,"" is the title character of this eighth book to come from Safire's ""On Language"" column in the New York Times Magazine (Quoth the Maven, 1993, etc.). As in earlier volumes, there is a jumble of topics unified by force of sheer curiosity; for example, when Safire encounters the phrase ""unshirted hell,"" he is prompted to ask, ""Just what is this form of hell, and where does it come from?"" -- and off he goes. Questions can also come from readers; one, for instance, wondered about the origins of the word ""tickety-boo."" This, Safire learns, was in use at least by 1963, when a group of 50 housewives played ""Everything Is Tickety-Boo"" on pots, pans, and kazoos for ""The Ted Mack Amateur Hour."" Sometimes such curiosity leads to speculation, as when Safire describes Shakespeare's ""screw your courage to the sticking place"" as a carpentry metaphor. His casual comment set readers thinking, and we see some results: a letter from Guilford, Conn., counters with the idea that the image refers to turning a violin peg, and one from Brooklyn, N.Y., suggests that it might come from archery. Safire is not above attempting to impose order on linguistic chaos, but as often as not his efforts seem to be made with tongue in cheek, as when he proposes ""Safire's Law of Nation-Naming: You get only one crack at a new name in each century."" Good luck to him on that one. Those who believe language is a delight as well as a necessity will happily while away the hours meandering through these pages.