|Book of the Month|
|Spread the Word |
Here's a word that will be new to many readers: 'maven'. A maven is someone who has accumulated a large amount on knowledge on a particular topic. (The word comes from the Hebrew meaning 'one who understands'.) A maven is not only an expert, but someone very ready to to discuss his area of expertise. For many years William Safire wrote the 'On Language' column of the New York Times Magazine, and rather as the posts in the Prof's Blog have been collected into A Little book of English so Mr Safire has collected his articles into a series of books, of which 'Spread the Word' is one. This book covers the period of the mid-to-late nineties, so some of the faster-moving expressions in English have already moved on. (A PDA is now a 'Personal Digital Assistant' whereas in the nineties it was a 'Public Display of Affection'.) Nevertheless, many of the etymological and grammatical points raised by the book are still very valid today.
Because the book is a collection of articles anywhere from five hundred to just over a thousand words long, there are no chapters as such. Instead the 305 pages have the articles arranged with the titles in alphabetical order, though it is uncertain if the titles are alphabeticalized to suit the order of the articles or vice-versa. If you get lost, there is a comprehensive index at the back covering both the topics discussed and what seems like every name and proper noun in the book. Mr Safire is acompulsive name-dropper, mentioning people and organizations that are often not relevant today. What makes this book readable, apart from the author's gentle humour, is his curiosity, which leads us to discover why doughnuts have a hole in the middle (because the middle was the last place to cook, and often stayed soggy) and exactly what Stanley said when he met the explorer and missionary David livingstone in Africa.
Who is this book for? As will have been seen from the description above, this is a book by a language expert for other language experts. This does not mean that a reasonably advanced EFL student could not learn a lot by jumping into the deep end (to use an English metaphor). There is a lot of interesting discussion between the grammar points. For example if 'pleasure' as a verb means 'to give sexual satisfaction', should a hotel receptionist be saying 'My pleasure' when thanked for doing something like confirming a room reservation? If this question made you stop and think, then this book is for you.
|Verdict: Fascinating, but a bit dated.
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