From Publishers Weekly
In 1990, Metcalf (How We Talk: American Regional English Today), executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, had the idea that the ADS should choose an annual New Word of the Year. That year, the winner was the shortlived bushlips ("insincere political rhetoric"). Some of the ADS's other choices fell into obscurity just as quickly, prompting Metcalf to write this entertaining investigation of which new words have staying power, and why. He discusses winners (1941's teenager) and losers (1995's schmoozeoisie, "a class of people who earn their living by talk"); reveals the forgotten jokes behind familiar terms like couch potato and gerrymander; and shows that the success of a word has little to do with whether or not it fills a gap in the English language. Metcalf also describes his system for predicting the success of au courant words (he gives weapons-grade high marks for endurance, while consigning quarterlife crisis to the ash heap). Edifying and humorous, this little book is irresistible fun.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The author's How We Talk: American Regional English Today (2000) was written mainly for writers and people whose interest in the language is of a rather scholarly nature. This new book, on the other hand, has something for everyone. In lively, entertaining prose, it traces the origins of a dazzling array of words and phrases: Marlboro Man, Frankenfood, blurb, skycap, quark, scofflaw (there was a contest to coin this useful word). It also introduces us to a fascinating array of would-be words, coinages that never quite caught on (linner, for example, was intended to designate the meal between lunch and dinner). The author, the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, offers tips on creating a new word: make it something whose meaning is self-evident, introduce it subtly, and keep using it. The book is jam-packed with treats for word lovers, and it blows the lid off some common myths. Shakespeare, for example, might not have invented a lot of the words he's credited with. A must-read for word buffs. David Pitt
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