Richard Lederer is a language maven. He's written 30 books on the subject, has a syndicated newspaper column called "Looking at Language" and hosts a weekly show on San Diego Public Radio. For Lederer, language is a thing to be celebrated, and rather than adopt a critical tone or bother to chastise the illiterate he opts for lucid and enthusiastic reportage on words and their development and usage. A Man of My Words: Reflections on the English Language is a feast for the "verbivore" (as Lederer calls himself), featuring dozens of chapters revolving around reflections on the writing life (his own and others much more famous) and touting the wonders of English, the world's largest, most diverse and amazingly eclectic language, which contains nearly four times the number of words (616,500, according to the Oxford English Dictionary) as its nearest competitor, German. Other topics up for discussion in Lederer's comprehensive collection include word origins, American dialects, proverbs, "fadspeak" (words derived from pop, social and business cultures), discussions on pronunciation (including the dreaded "NOO-kyuh-lur" for "nuclear," botched by politicians from Eisenhower to the present day) and the important effect of regionalisms on language.

With unswerving faith in humankind's innate expressive adaptability, Lederer seeks to make sense of the natural progression of word and usage development and catalog its change and growth with intelligence and delight. By and by, Lederer also shares some personal reminiscences on family life and his travels and work all word-related, of course including his interesting duties as an interpreter of the exact legal meaning of a ballot-box political referendum for the state of Maine. Challenging quizzes make for diverting reading or even for light gamesmanship with fellow word-fanatical friends. This thoughtful, rigorously literate volume engages from first page to last but works just as well as an item for random browsing. Martin Brady writes from Nashville.

 

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