400: Verbatim by Erin McKean

by Gerard


400: McKean, Erin, ed. Verbatim: From the Bawdy to the Sublime, the Best Writing on Language for Word Lovers, Grammar Mavens, and Armchair Linguists. San Diego: Harcourt, 2001. 348 pp. ISBN 0-15-601209-X.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language

Erin McKean’s collection of articles and essays from Verbatim is a fun expedition into linguistics and language history. McKean brings together writings from the periodical’s 37-year history. There’s almost too much here to do it justice. In the 56 presented essays, writers bounce ideas, trade barbs, and peel away the layers of words and ideas. Here’s some fun bits from this collection:

  • An almost complete collection of derogatory Britishisms,
  • A quick foray into the language of science fiction fan fiction
  • A compendium of Japanese onomatopoeia
  • An odd look at “tosspot” words—verb-noun combination words
  • A fun history at the language of the so-called “Wicked” Bibles.

This book gives the reader digestible nuggets of writing on many of language’s vagaries. I’m a language nut, so I had a lot of fun with many of the entries, but it may be a bit like a a twelve-course meal when all you want is a nibble. Read this one in little chunks and you’ll learn a lot of new language trivia. An encyclopedic and fun volume.