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The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine Hardcover – June 29, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Printing edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743242440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743242448
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Safire has published more than a dozen, often bestselling, collections (No Uncertain Terms, etc.) of his acerbic weekly columns on the English language. In his crisply witty commentaries, he does more than elucidate the origins of slang or correct common grammatical mistakes: he alerts readers to the rhetorical maneuvers of our politicians and public figures as only a former speechwriter can. Bush's phrase "Leave no child behind," the atomic origins of "ground zero," the difference between "antiterrorism" and "counterterrorism," and Tony Blair's diplomatic use of a moveable modifier in an Israeli speech all occasion the use of Safire's talent for analyzing the speech of our decision makers. His gift for plucking examples of more general shifts in word usage from the most obscure news reports and for picking up on debates surrounding word use is unmatched. Several of his columns cross-examine Supreme Court wording, and this volume includes entertainingly vigilant ripostes to Safire from Justice Antonin Scalia. Safire is adept at rooting out literary influences and half-remembered poetic allusions, tracking the appearances of, for example, Lewis Carroll's delightful verb "galumph." Unfortunately, Safire's command of foreign languages is less than reliable, as he records Jacques Barzun and others pointing out. And he can veer into chauvinism (for instance, calling for the world to adopt American-style layout for the day's date). Yet the investigations gathered here, each in an unfailingly droll tone, will instruct and delight all readers who share Safire's love of language and its endless permutations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Pulitzer Prize winner Safire is a prolific writer (with a total of 25 titles to his credit), and his latest book is his eighth one on language--no surprise there, since he has become one of the leading experts on proper usage. His home base is the New York Times Magazine, where he writes the weekly "On Language" column. This new compilation of recent columns demonstrates in both erudite and witty terms why so many readers fondly turn to him for edifying discussions about how English is currently being spoken and written--and, as he so often finds, not in the correct manner. His analyses of colloquialisms, Americanisms, brand-new meanings, and connotations of the hour are based on the way people express themselves, ranging from what politicians say to how television personalities talk to the ways just plain old you and I converse. There is a lot to think about here for the language lover, for there is much subtlety in Safire's examinations of word usage; for instance, one could be up all night reading and pondering his discussion of the difference between seasonable and seasonal. But, inarguably, there are certainly worse reasons to be up all night. Sure to be popular where his previous books on language have been requested. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Mayo VINE VOICE on July 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to go wrong purchasing a book on language by Safire, and The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine was yet another satisfying experience.

Safire launches into his subject matter with a bold statement: "We will come to sodomy in a moment." Here he has the audacity to pretend that we are in the middle of a conversation about this emotionally/religiously/politically charged word, and now he expects us to wait around until he gets to his point. In the hands of a novice, this kind of opening could be a disaster. But, this is Safire. It's worth hearing what he has to say.

He goes on in the introductory essay to analyze supreme court justice Antonin Scalia's problematic statement: "I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means." He includes exchanges (correspondence?) with Scalia about the grammatical issues, and you get a real sense of two thinkers struggling to express themselves well.

The book contains numerous other words that caught Safire's eye, so it is more a record of words flying around the political realm, than a structured approach to the English language. It consists of many mini essays, and can be read straight through, or in random samplings. You may want to have a dictionary close by just in case. Safire possesses a powerful vocabulary, and he's not afraid to use it.

Although you may not agree with his politics, it's fascinating to see the English language come alive in his hands. I believe this was the last book he wrote before passing away in 2009.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By James W. Grieve on February 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a terrific book by a terrific thinker and writer. It's full of obscure word history that never fails to interest. And the dictionary organization makes it pretty easy to find passages that you might be interested in using for reference at a later date.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By gsundar on February 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I expected that this compilation of his columns on English usage and grammar would be another excercise in [overanalysis] of the language from an old, out-of-touch crank, similar to Buckley's masturbatory celebration of his own good English, "The Right Word" or George Will's angry, irrational screeds against Ebonics. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that this 85 year old off-the-docks Jewish Conservative who is best known for his cranky anti-liberal editorials, is really quite knowledgeable about current popular culture and its effect on the language.

The section on Hip-Hop/Rap Influence on the language is what interested me the most. Safire provides valuable insight into the nuances of "izzle"-talk, first popularized by hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg. He also presents a thorough analysis of the origins and meanings of Rap artists' names, reaching back to SugarHill Gang and covering rap artists all the way up to Nas. Did you know that Nas is not just an acronym for network attached storage? Me neither. How in the world would an artist come to choose "Nas" or "Snoop Doggie Dogg" or "Lil Bow Wow" for a name? Well, William Safire is just the man to answer that question. He is especially humorous when spoofing hip-hop terms which have been over-used into obsolescence , and yet linger on in the stunted vocabularies of deluded lay people who have no understanding of the culture and are always a year or 2 behind the times. The essays "Bye Bye Homegirl in Da House", "Yo Yo Yo..No No No", "Hold on to Yo MC Hammer CDs, Boyeeee" and "You Go Girlfreind. I Mean It, Go On, Get Out Of Here" were hilarious.

One major low point of the book was the overwrought study of Missy Eliot's "Get Yer Freak On".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amanda L. Davis on November 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is great. It's amusing, easy enough to understand and will actually teach you a lot about language. The little snippets mean you can read a few or many depending on your mood. I loved it.
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By zhang_xiaofeng on July 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I don't know why, but this book is almost free. A great deal
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