Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Much Ado About Language Books

I like to read books about language. Often the books are rather serious (not so for “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson, but in general). So I enjoyed getting the chance to read something much lighter.

Richard Watson Todd’s “Much Ado About English” is a short, easy-to-read, and entertaining book about the English language. Sure, it is educational, too (for example, many chapters have little exercises, although they are mostly fun), but basically you just find yourself giggling and shaking your head at how illogical English can be.

Every brief chapter (usually around three pages) is about a different topic, such as slang, wordplay, British versus American English, pronunciation, making plurals, and much more. You learn a lot of random but interesting facts, such as that the word “penguin” comes from the Welsh “pen gwyn”, which means “white head”, and that “bizarre” comes from the Basque word “bizar”, which means “beard.” Then you are invited to try out your new knowledge by making guesses about other words or phrases.

The section on “self-contradictory sentences” is quite amusing, when you consider sentences such as “This vacuum cleaner really sucks” (is that good or bad?) and “Her intelligence is legendary” (does that mean the legend is true or false?). You’ll be wondering how people actually communicate in English.

I’m always looking for suggestions for books about language, so
email me if you have any ideas. During the summer, I’d especially like to read some entertaining books, like Todd’s was.

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