Language wears many hats, but its most important job is to help us name or describe what's in the world. Words define us, our actions, even our existence. And just when you think that you have all the words you need, you discover new ones, hear new uses for old ones or see them mutate right before your eyes-a neologism is born. Those neologisms are actually one of the best ways of keeping tabs on the way our world and culture are changing. One of the people who's been keeping tabs is Paul McFedries, the president of Logophilia Limited (logophilia is Greek for "the love of words"). His scorecard is Word Spy, a daily newsletter that has been reporting from the neological frontier since 1998 and that has more than 100,000 visitors a month and more than 12 million page views. In Word Spy, McFedries demonstrates how new words both reflect and illuminate not only the subcultures that coin them but also the larger culture in which these groups exist.
Word manuals come in all shapes and sizes. Although these three cover similar ground, they each target different audiences. Guran, a freelance writer and editor, provides some basic guidance on language usage, making clear from the outset her position as a word "user" rather than an expert. This explains the book's accessibility-readers will learn a good deal about terms that often get mistaken for other terms or are simply used incorrectly. However, one still wonders whether some entries may be too elementary given the book's target audience (e.g., while it may be useful for most budding writers to understand the difference between hanged and hung, how many really need the difference between great and grate explained ). Still, the explanations are consistently succinct and are supplemented by useful quotations that illustrate correct usage and provide entertainment and light relief. Although its brevity might limit its usefulness as a reference tool, this how-to is solidly written and enhanced by a detailed index. Kaminsky and Penney here follow up their successful and entertaining Magic Words, written to help readers "talk [their] way through life's challenges." Both prominent figures in publishing (Kaminsky is a former publisher and Penney a former editor in chief of Self magazine), the authors draw on feedback from readers of their first book to provide a similar guide that homes in on business vocabulary. Each phrase is chosen for its specific relevance to the workplace-e.g., "don't weigh the facts with your thumb on the scale" and "martyrs are revered (but rarely rewarded)"-and explained through usage examples and etymology. Like Guran's book, this supplies short, practical tips for all levels of the workforce rather than a comprehensive philosophy of the featured terms. Word Spy will appeal to both word lovers and those interested in modern cultural trends and evolutions. McFedries, the creator of the enormously popular Logophilia Limited web site and author of many titles in the "Complete Idiot's Guide" series, has collected many neologisms and arranged them according to cultural trends such as fast food, political correctness, the dot-com phenomenon, and evolutions in areas like marriage and relationships, the workplace, and technology. The book's short and snappy chapters make it perfect for dipping into, and McFedries's research into the various uses of terms like hactivism, bozon, and bling-bling makes it informative as well as entertaining. Despite the emphasis on North American usage, the volume is impressively wide-ranging, featuring neologisms drawn from English newspapers and magazines around the world as well as from fiction, nonfiction, and popular music.-Rebecca Bollen, North Bergen, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
February 17, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Word Spy by Paul McFedries
A Mosaic of New Words
A community is known by the language it keeps, and its words chronicle the times. Every aspect of the life of a people is reflected in the words they use to talk about themselves and the world around them. As their world changes--through invention, discovery, revolution, evolution, or personal transformation--so does their language. Like the growth rings of a tree, our vocabulary bears witness to our past. --John Algeo
The bold and discerning writer who, recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has no following and is tartly reminded that "it isn't in the dictionary" although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that was in the dictionary. --Ambrose Bierce
ne-ol-o-gism noun A meaningless word coined by a psychotic. --Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
What could be more relevant, more interesting, more fun than new words? Well, yes, lots of things. However, for many people a newly minted word is one of life's little pleasures, something that can be counted among what James Boswell called "the small excellencies." But then there are those of us who have been stricken with a malady that I call neologophilia, the intense attraction--oh, why not say it?--the love of new words.
This ailment's happy sufferers exhibit an unvarying collection of symptoms: an untrammeled glee at coming across a new word in a book or newspaper; an unquenchable curiosity about life, because, as you'll see, new words lead us into new worlds; an unending wonder at the amazing plasticity of the language and at the relentless creativity of those who use it; and an unceasing urge to coin new words (and, of course, an unabashed desire to weave these new coinages into cocktail party conversations).
I came down with this affliction many years ago, and I've been clam-happy ever since. I enjoy words and language in general, but what sets my crank a-turning is, as H. L. Mencken said, "the biology of language, as opposed to its paleontology." I love the living language more than the fossilized variety with its hardened meanings and set-in-stone lexicon. To put it another way, although I get as much pleasure as anyone out of a dictionary, the words it contains are, well, domesticated. I love the wild, untamed neologisms that romp around the linguistic wilderness. When I see a new word in an article or book, I get a little jolt of excitement, a mental shock akin to seeing an animal live for the first time while walking in the woods. I'm not looking to hunt the word, or tame it, or capture it for inclusion in some kind of lexical zoo. Instead, I take a snapshot of the word--I record the source and the citation--that shows the word in its natural environment.
And that, more than anything, explains what this book is all about. It's a series of cultural snapshots, with the lens focused on new words and phrases that tell us something about our world. These snapshots cover various slices of modern life, including relationships, business, technology, war, aging, multiculturalism, and even fast food. I define each word, tell you when it first appeared in print, provide a citation from the media that shows how the word is used, and give you some cultural background--stats, stories, trends, and tidbits--that put the word into context. Taken together, I hope these snapshots will form a larger picture of our modern culture. Have you ever seen one of those images that, when examined closely, turns out to be made up of thousands of smaller pictures? It's called a mosaic, and that's the metaphor that underlies this book. It's a mosaic of new words.