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No Uncertain Terms: More Writing from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine [Paperback]

William Safire
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 2, 2004 0743258126 978-0743258128 Reprint
There is no wittier, more amiable or more astute word maven than Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Safire.
For many people, the first item on the agenda for Sunday morning is to sit down and read Safire's "On Language" column in The New York Times Magazine, then to compose a "Gotcha" letter to the Times. Each of his books on language is a classic, to be read, re-read and fought over. Safire is the beloved, slightly crotchety guru of contemporary vocabulary, speech, language, usage and writing, as close as we are likely to get to a modern Samuel Johnson. Fans, critics and fellow language mavens eagerly await his books on language. This one is no exception.
William Safire has written the weekly New York Times Magazine column "On Language" since 1979. His observations on grammar, usage and etymology have led to the publication of fourteen "word books" and have made him the most widely read writer on the English language today. The subjects for his columns come from his insights into the current political scene, as well as from technology, entertainment and life in general. Known for his delight in catching people (especially politicians) who misuse words, he is not above tackling his own linguistic gaffes. Safire examines and comments on language trends and traces the origins of everyday words, phrases and clichés to their source. Scholarly, entertaining, lively and thoughtful, Safire's pointed commentaries on popular language and culture are at once provocative and enlightening.
Want the 411 on what's phat and what's skeevy? Here's the "straight dope" on everything from "fast-track legislation" to "the Full Monty," with deft and well-directed potshots at those who criticize, twist the usage of or misunderstand the meaning of such classic examples of American idiom as "grow'd like Topsy," "and the horse you rode in on," "drop a dime" (on someone), "go figure" and hundreds more, together with sharp, witty and passionately opinionated letters from both ordinary readers and equally irate or puzzled celebrities who have been unable to resist picking up a pen to put Mr. Safire in his place or to offer detailed criticism, additional examples or amusing anecdotes.
No Uncertain Terms is a boisterous and brilliant look at the oddities and foibles of our language. Not only "a blast and a half," but wise, clever and illuminating, it is a book that Mencken would have loved and that should be on the desk (or at the bedside) of everyone who shares Mr. Safire's profound love of the English language and his penchant for asking, "Where does that come from?"
This new collection is a joy that will spark the interest of language lovers everywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For over two decades, Safire's "On Language" column for the New York Times Magazine has made him probably the most widely read commentator on the English language today, and he has turned those columns into more than a dozen books (Let a Simile Be Your Umbrella, etc.). There is no one more adept at dissecting lexical linkages, spotting linguistic lapses and tracing coinages. In this outing, he brings back columns first published between 1997, and 1999, a period rife with words relating to "Clinton's Monicagate." For instance, the Congressional Record mistakenly recorded Monica Lewinsky's gift to the president as a "chochki." What Safire calls "linguistic lawyering" got the record corrected to read "tchochke." Safire notes, "Ms. Lewinsky gave it the proper English pronunciation, and the transcriber took the spelling of the final vowel from that." Probing puns and neologistic splinterings such as bagelwich, Safire covers computerese, examines euphemisms, considers the propriety of new compound words ("something there is that doesn't like a hyphen"), takes issue with the vogue of "having an issue" and sallies with slanguists. We learn that the verb canoodle may be related to the German dumpling called Knoedel. Here are words from Web sites, politicians, Pentagonians and other phrasemakers. The columns are often followed by reader reactions, and these informative responses can veer into invective or erupt into hilarity. Throughout this cornucopia of columns, stimulating, scholarly and thought provoking, Safire remains a witty wordsmith, even in his closing acknowledgments: "I stand on the shoulders of giants. (Nobody stands on the shoulders of midgets; that would be cruel)."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Safire has written his "On Language" column for the New York Times Sunday Magazine for more than 20 years. His is one of the most widely recognized names on the subject of the English language. The latest collection of columns is exactly what one would expect. Most of the subject matter is taken from statements by public figures or companies. Topics include misuse of words or phrases, creative uses of words or phrases, meanings that change slowly over time, and slang trends. Also included are responses from readers, which, together with Safire's own pieces, make for interesting and satisfying discussions of a number of language issues. Some of the subjects covered may be more advanced than what the average high-school English class teaches, but there is plenty more that will be accessible to most readers. Safire's name and impressive credentials make this a worthy addition to any collection. The content within will ensure that it sees respectable circulation. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (June 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743258126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743258128
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,138,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Safire began his writing career as a reporter, became a speechwriter in the Nixon White House, and re-crossed the street to write an Op-Ed column in the New York Times for the next three decades. He also wrote the weekly "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine. He was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and the Medal of Freedom.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remains More Current Than Most Collections June 12, 2003
Format:Hardcover
First off, it's somewhat intimidating to review a book authored by such a master of the English language. While I am of the opinion that I am a somewhat talented writer, there are days when I covet the ability and skills demonstrated weekly by Safire in his language columns.
This leads me to the usual problem with books such as this one, which are compendiums of columns that have already appeared in the paper months or even years ago. In this case, most of these columns were written during the height of the impeachment case against President Clinton. In our current society where news is reported instantly via the internet, the news events mentioned in this book seem like they happened so long ago.
Still, due to the subject matter of focusing on language and its use, the information (or content as Safire points out) is still interesting, humours and educational. He also updates the columns with gotcha letters sent to him from fans around the world who love to catch him on his errors.
Also, for those of you who might bristle regarding his political views or history as a Nixon employee can put the bias aside and enjoy the book. I'm downgrading it from five to four stars because of the recency issue, but recommend it and also recommend his weekly column.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected. July 30, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The condition of the book is good; a bit of use is visible but overall it is fine. The content isn't quite what I expected. Perhaps I didn't read enough of Mr. Safire's columns. It is witty and informative but in some cases a bit too verbose.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "No Uncertain Terms" January 1, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As is the case with all of the writings of the late Mr Safire, the book "No Uncertain Terms" allows the reader to enjoy an array of observations assembled by a person who thought seriously and who wrote both wittily and substantively about his subject: English communication. For many years, I was a devoted reader of Mr Safire's "On Language" columns as published each Sunday in The New York Times Magazine. Whenever Mr Safire was on vacation and his column was omitted from The New York Times Magazine, I felt shortchanged. I was in those days and I remain to the present a student of our rich and evolving language. On rare occasion, I find myself in conflict with Mr Safire's expressed views, but I am able nevertheless to profit from his writings. Clear, correct communication, both oral and written, has long been in my judgment a worthy endeavor. Accordingly, I continue to be enriched by Mr Safire's oeuvre, even though he is no longer in our midst. The readers of this review may reasonably infer that I highly recommend "No Uncertain Terms" to prospective purchasers of books.
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6 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gotcha! October 16, 2003
Format:Hardcover
In this book, William Safire has collected some of his "On Language" columns from THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE. About three-fourths of the columns are on word origins, a subject in which I haven't much interest, and about one-fourth deal with usage. In spite of Safire's conservative political outlook (he was a speechwriter for Nixon), he doesn't drag his political views into these language columns. He even praises Bill Clinton's careful use of words in certain circumstances. On the other hand, he voices no criticisms of George W's speech, perhaps because others have pretty fully explored the subject.
Many people respond to Safire's columns with letters of correction or criticism. Safire calls these people the Gotcha! Gang. I have a few Gotchas of my own.
On page 26, he quotes a Seth Leibshohn of Washington who claims the author of Goldwater's infamous "defense of liberty" line was "a professor of political science at the University of Ohio . . . ." There is no such place as the University of Ohio nor has there ever been such a place. Ohio houses five institutions of higher learning containing the name "Ohio": The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Ohio Dominican, Ohio Northern, and Ohio Wesleyan.
On page 32, Safire quotes the following in a letter from Jack Fruchtman of Towson University: "Madison's amendment dealing with congressional pay was eventually ratified on May 7, 1792, as the 27th amendment . . . ." This is an obvious impossibility. If the 27th amendment was ratified in 1792, just a few years after the Constitution was adopted, then amendments 1 through 26 must also have been ratified by May of 1792.
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