William Safire's "On Language" column, 20 years old with the publication of this collection, is one of Sunday morning's great pleasures: Where else can one turn for a timely linguistic assessment of a president's inaugural speech, a corporation's annual report, or the use of terms such as stud muffin
? A still greater pleasure is reading Safire's language columns in book form, where they are accompanied by letters from tireless members of the Nitpickers' League, the Gotcha! Gang, the Squad Squad, the Board of Octogenarian Mentors, and others. The columns may be Safire's, but the letters--from Jacques Barzun, Alistair Cooke, William A. Sabin, even Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Benazir Bhutto--are allowed the final word. And imperfect wordsmiths everywhere may be relieved to know that even William Safire can make a mistake. "Sometimes," he writes in his introduction to Spread the Word
, "a kindly copy editor will call to say, 'Are you deliberately trying to slip this egregious error into the paper?'" --Jane Steinberg
From Library Journal
Here are two new books by well-known columnists/language mavens. Safire is funny, thought-provoking, and, after 20 years of writing columns for the New York Times Magazine, an American institution. Gathering these columns and including many letters from readers, his book focuses on the way our language was used historically and how it is used now. The columns are clever and highly readable, and some of the letters from readers are just as much fun. Wallraff has been writing her witty column for The Atlantic Monthly for many years. Partly a style and usage manual that will be valuable for reference and on the corner of a writing desk, this book is also a written lecture by a great English teacher. Safire and Wallraff cover some of the same ground and sometimes differ, one notable example being the use of the article an before words that start with h such as historian. The best part of these books is, in most instances, that the "right" usage is not as important as reading about how the authors formed their opinions. Safire may have a slight edge owing to name recognition, but both books will put smiles on many a reader's face.ALisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI
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