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Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Book On Spelling? There's Nothing Like It Except Maybe Library Edition Dictionaries...

...and most of us--even those of us who love etyomology--aren't that crazy about reading dictionaries. That is part of it. The other is the getting of the history of words with a dictionary is haphazard at best.

Along comes Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling. I know of no other book quite like it. I love June Casagrande's Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs--Even If You're Right and Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite and even Lynn Truss's British hardass take on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I remember reading a book on the origins of the alphabet back in the early 60s. This, however, is the only one I know that capsulates the history of spelling (more or less).

I found it funny and disturbing. (I don't suppose one expects a book on spelling to be disturbing.) But take the word "e-mail." As an editor I've been fighting to keep the hyphen because the word is short for electronic mail and the hyphen preserves that origin. There! There on the cover is "e-mail" spelled "email." Guess I'm fighting a losing battle. Which, after all, is the point of this book.

Don't let the fact that you now know the point keep you from reading it. If you love words and history, you'll be entertained.

Thank you, David Wolman.

Reviewed for Amazon by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the award-winning Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success.

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