WATCHING MY LANGUAGE by William Safire

WATCHING MY LANGUAGE

Adventures in the Word Trade

KIRKUS REVIEW

 The ninth volume of tidbits of stylistic wit and wisdom from a man willing to display his grammar in public. A letter calling a political column by Safire (In Love with Norma Loquendi, 1994, etc.) ``a pack of damn lies'' earns the letter writer a mention in Safire's New York Times Sunday Magazine ``On Language'' column, source of the articles in this lively collection. ``That comment troubled me,'' Safire says. ``Should it be damn lies or damned lies?'' He opts for damned, explaining that the first form is grounded in speech, and the second in meaning. As he says, ``speech can be loose but writing should be tight.'' This sentiment may lure copy editors to his side, at least until they reach the section entitled ``Let's Kill All the Copy Editors.'' Here Safire explores capitalization preferences and compound adjectives, concluding that style should be based upon function, not fad. His engaging language-maven persona puts him securely on a shortlist of people who can get away with grousing about the lack of subject and verb agreement in ``For the wages of sin is death''; but let him put a (metaphorical) foot wrong, and folks note it with something approaching, well, damned glee. For example, after he berates New York State lawmakers for using a legal guide ``shot through with grammatical errors,'' a correspondent points out that ``grammatical errors'' is an oxymoron. The collection is seasoned with the whimsy language-lovers have come to expect. Consider the musings on what to call Ross Perot's supporters. When Safire ponders and rejects Perotites, Peronistas, and Perotniks, his readers counter with Perotselytes, Perotnoiacs, and the rather tastier Perogies. Yet again, readers will find that Safire's apparently endless capacity to be fascinated by language is highly contagious.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-42387-7
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997




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