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.