WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD? by William Safire

WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD?

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KIRKUS REVIEW

More of Satire's ""On Language"" columns from The New York Times Magazine--and again, as in On Language (1980), he has arranged them in absurdist alphabetical order (""how come?"" is followed by ""huffle-duffle, see good night, sweet roll"") and has given over much of the space here to letters from his readers. As before, etymology is the favorite topic, with Satire and his ""Lexicographic Irregulars"" trading theories on such words and phrases as: hassle, gridlock, hype (from hypodermic, not hyperbole), scrod, taxi dancer, wimp, fungo, strapped, ""get off my case,"" ""dial back,"" ""hit the ground running,"" best shop, cheap shot--and the verb ""to ding."" Similarly, hot new examples of black slang are explored--with help from some high-school girls from Long Island. Doctors send in their favorite (sometimes hilarious) private professional jargon. There's a celebration of New York-ese--including the glories of ""bunking into"" somebody. ""Haigravations""--one of many painful puns here--get their due. (""Linguistic whistleblowers at Foggy Bottom are encouraged to keep a close watch on the new secretary of state and to send along other abuses of power-talk."") A round-table on campus slang elicits an essay on ""really"" (as in ""oh wow"") by the president of Yale--as well as such ""gross-outs"" as: ""The most descriptive phrase I ever heard at Cornell for upchucking was 'driving the porcelain bus.' Note how the position of the hands is identical for both activities."" And loose-lips Safire gets eloquent come-uppance from readers regularly--especially when he somewhat offensively explains why he prefers ""Oriental"" to ""Asian."" Not quite as much fun as Volume I--but Satire's easygoing charm and those reader letters (are they getting royalties) continue to raise the proceedings above the usual language-book level.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1982
Publisher: Times Books