Five books about words

Five books about words

How many books have you read?

Well, I suppose, since I read an unabridged dictionary cover to cover when I was a kid, I could say I’ve read just about all of them…after all, they are all the same words, just in a different order, right? 😉

Of course, I doubt that dictionary could “grok” (a word invented by Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*))…essentially, it means to understand something so thoroughly that you become one with it) all of the words in all of the books I’ve read.

I do like neologisms, and I sometimes indulge myself in creating them…although, admittedly, mine are typically portmanteaus (two words smushed together) or initialisms or acronyms…not really brand new words.

My favorite book about words is not available for the Kindle…yet.

Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words (at AmazonSmile)

Also unavailable?

I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases (at AmazonSmile)

So, what I decided to do, after having a conversation (via comment) with Lady Galaxy, one of my regular readers and commenters, is to see what is available about words in the USA Kindle store…and share some with you that stood out to me.

Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers (at AmazonSmile)
by Paul Dickson
5 out of 5 stars, 2 customer reviews
$9.99 at time of writing

Paul Dickson is one of those authors whose works greatly appeal to me…because Dickson seems to be interested in everything. 😉 Lexicography (which is a loose idea of what we are discussing in this post, although it is actually much more specific) is just one of them (Dickson has written many books on many subjects…not with the depth of the legendary Isaac Asimov, but certainly, with an admirable breadth). Words (and, we need to be clear, phrases) created by authors which then become common usage? I love that! I also like it when pop culture references are used without knowledge of the original context…for example, in high school, I might hear someone say, “Which way did they go, George?” indicating a person with…intellectual challenges. They generally did not know that the voice they were imitating came from a Warner Brothers cartoon…and surely didn’t connect it with Of Mice and Men. I’ve added this one to my wish list! 🙂

The Oxford Guide to Practical Lexicography (at AmazonSmile)
by B.T. Atkins, Michael Rundell
no reviews yet

Gee, nobody has reviewed this almost $40 book on how to create a dictionary yet? 😉 Atkins has been the “Lexicographic Adviser to Oxford University Press”, and it sounds like an interesting (although geared towards professionals) read.

The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published (at AmazonSmile)
by David Skinner
3.7 stars, 21 reviews

This is the story of Webster’s 3rd, a dictionary that then committed the (perceived as) nearly heretical action of including slang. Our adult kid, the linguist, has done an excellent job of getting me over an irrational rejection of “improper” usage. I’ve always loved slang (and understood the use of it), but “incorrect” use of a word would bother me. For example, I see very educated people using the word “decimate” to indicate that something was almost destroyed…when, actually, it only means it was reduced by a tenth (which would still be a tragedy, if we are talking about, say, ten soldiers out of a hundred killed). Also, when people talk about getting several good things done at once as getting them done in a “fell swoop”, when “fell” specifically refers to bad things. I think learning that much of what we argue is proper “English” comes from Noah Webster making up American spellings largely as a political move (no different from people saying something like “herstory” instead of “history” to make the gender switch) that also helped me understand the legitimacy of an evolving language.

The Little Dictionary of Big Words You Should Know (at AmazonSmile)
by Ian Wilson
5 stars, 1 review

It puts me off a bit that they say the book is an “antidote” to text speak…there has been some good evidence that people who use text abbreviations are actually likely to be more serious readers, and better users of English. It makes sense: for you to be able to read and understand “u 8 yet?” requires some pretty sophisticated word substitution and language skills. Still, I think it’s a good thing to expose people to more words.

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages (at AmazonSmile)
by Ammon Shea
4.3 stars, 53 reviews

Ammon Shea, I salute you! I’m also a big jealous. 😉 This reminds me of another book I read about an author reading all of the Encyclopedia Britannica…unlike the books on this list, that one has text-to-speech access blocked, unfortunately.

There you go! That’s five, but I could certainly keep going.

What about you? Do you have a favorite book about words? What are your “pet peeves” about “improper” language use? I’ll go ahead and tell you one that still catches me out each time, even though I have gotten past the strong emotional reaction. It’s when people leave out the word “other”. For example, “We have better deals than any car dealership in California!” I assume from that that the sponsor either isn’t a car dealership or isn’t in California…which isn’t there intent, but that’s actually how my brain processes the claim. For me, it should be, “We have better deals than any other car dealership in California!” Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Bonus deal:

One of today’s Kindle Daily Deal‘s (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) is any of seven Dresden Files novels by Jim Butcher for $1.99 each. You could get somebody quite a gift for $13.93 if you did all seven and delayed their delivery for the appropriate gift giving occasion…or give yourself a good summer with a wizard/detective. 😉

New! Try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


3 Responses to “Five books about words”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    One of my favorite books about words is Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Unfortunately, it’s not available on Kindle. My edition is from 1970!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Actually, if it was a reprint of the first edition, that would have made your 1970 version about a century old. 🙂

      Yes, it’s a great book, and they have updated it many times.

      There was a version of it available in the Kindle store, but the two reviews I saw said it was poorly OCR’ed (Optical Character Recognition), and it is currently under review by Amazon. does have a free version of it:

  2. Lady Galaxy Says:

    They’re adding some new words to the Webster’s Dictionary. Many of them seem to be related to social media.

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