Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 420s

420: The Prodigal Tongue by Mark Abley

DDC_420

420.9: Abley, Mark. The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. 236 pp. ISBN 978-0-618-57122-2.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 420: English and Old English
  • 420.9: History of the English language

If you perk up your ears for a bit, you will notice that English is not the language it once was. Odd terms, new phrases, and foreign invasions are changing English from the inside out. The explosion of the Internet and small-scale news have given localisms a chance to flourish on a global scale. It took the word “teenager” roughly sixty years to become mainstream, but now noob and lol are commonplace after only a decade of use. Mark Abley’s The Prodigal Tongue traces the historical journey of the English and project many possible changes the language could take.

Read the rest of this entry »

428: Dimboxes, Epopts, and Other Quidams by David Grambs

DDC_428

428.1: Grambs, David. Dimboxes, Epopts, and Other Quidams: Words to Describe Life’s Indescribable People. New York: Workman Publishing, 1986. 181 pp. ISBN 0-89480-155-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 420: English and Old English
  • 428: Standard English usage and applied linguistics
  • 428.1: English language spellers

This is another one of those “look at this interesting list of archaic, rare, or foreign words for things” books. David Grambs’s Dimboxes, Epopts, and Other Quidams is a collection of terms of different types of people we meet in the course of our lives. This book got me thinking in that while you’ll forget a lot of these words while out in public, when you read the list, you’ll invariably call to mind people who fit the definitions provided. I’ll just spoil for you the definitions of the title terms (you’ll have to read the rest):

Read the rest of this entry »

423: The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

DDC_423

423.092: Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. 242 pp. ISBN 0-0601-7596-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 420: English and Old English
  • 423: Dictionaries of Standard English
  • +092: Biography

One of the most productive relationships in the history of modern dictionary making began with a murder. On February 17, 1872, William Chester Minor, an ex-patriated Civil war surgeon, in a schizophrenic rage, gunned down George Merritt in London’s Lambeth slum. He was tried, found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sent to Broadmoor Asylum. It was there that he found a measure of mental solace in a most unusual endeavor. Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman details what happened next.

Read the rest of this entry »

422: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two by Anu Garg

DDC_422

422: Garg, Anu. The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words. New York: Plume, 2007. 169 pp. ISBN 978-0-452-28861-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 420: English and Old English
  • 422: Etymology of standard English

Languages are wonderful things. They are fluid, foreign, and fantastic. The English language is an amalgamation of everything it has come into contact with, including itself. Words have been borrowed from other languages, re-translated, shifted over time, and even re-combined to add new nuance and new history. Anu Garg’s The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two is a look into the nooks and crannies of the English language to show some of the more amazing stories behind some of its most interesting words.

Read the rest of this entry »

427: Wicked Good Words by Mim Harrison

427.973: Harrison, Mim. Wicked Good Words: From Johnnycakes to Jug Handles, A Roundup of America’s Regionalisms. New York: Perigee, 2011. 166 pp. ISBN 978-0-399-53676-2.

One of the hardest subjects to read about is language. These books tend to be stuffy timelines of influences and subject-verb constructions that are as soporific as C-SPAN. The 400s (language) are full of these duds. One of the serendipitous by-products of this problem is that when a good book on language comes out, it seems that much better than its counterparts.

Mim Harrison’s Wicked Good Words is a member of the second group. First off, if you’re going to put together a book of zany regional colloquialisms, it helps to be named Mim. Second off, some of these come way out of left field.

Her book is appropriately sectioned by region. The chapter on New England has the prerequisite “wicked” (for “good”), but also contains “fence viewer” (a person with a cushy, unnecessary job) and “American chop suey” (a mixture of  macaroni noodles, ground beef, and tomato sauce). Harrison goes through the Midwest, the South, the Southwest, and so on. Some of the entries make a lot of sense, but others take a more tortuous historical route to the present. Harrison

Also hidden among the regional constructions are asides on a single trope. She has a couple of pages on American greetings (“Hi”, “Howdy”, “Hey!”) and what to call a carbonated beverage (“pop”, “soda”, “tonic”, etc.). There’s even three pages on death eupemisms (“bought the farm”, “gone to Boot Hill”, “passed”).

All in all, it’s a fun book that you can read in a couple of hours. It can also double a decent bathroom reader.