Sunday, July 10, 2011

Words Words Words

David Crystal shows that he is an expert in the English language. He has knowledge of the intricate details of words, while also knowing his audience well. He describes the intricacies of English words in clear understandable language.

It contains sections describing where words come from, how they change, and how they fall away in usage. (And in some cases, seemingly come back from the grave.) English is a melting pot of many different languages, with an Anglo-Saxon base. However, even some common words come from languages outside this base. Some of the oddities of the language can be traced back to attempts to formalize rules, or make things easier. (For example, "love" is spelled with an "o" because it was difficult to distinguish between u and v.)

I found the etymological analysis to be especially intriguing. Words evolve over time, some broadening or narrowing their scope, others adopting a more positive of negative meaning. Some words like "bling" can pop out of nowhere, become wildly adopted, and in the process be shunned by their original rapper coiners. Others such as wireless seem to die (in favor of radio), only to roar back to life (as mobile phones and the like.) To truly understand words, you need to know what they mean at the given point in time.

English also has a great system for coining new words out of already-existing parts, or through commonization of proper nouns. As long as the audience understands the speaker, communication is working. Jargon is great when used among specialized audiences. However, when used among common folk it hinders understanding. Similarly many other usages can be appropriate in some cases, but not in other. (However, outside forces inflicting "political correct" language often just transfer the negative view to other seemlingly benign words.)

Words words words is a short book with many words in it (and a cover to inspire budding gymnasts.) It titles each chapter with a "word" word, and even goes on to cover scrabble, text messaging and the internet. It is well worth the effort. And if it really inspires you to seek out more, there are a multitude of sources to keep you going.

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