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Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words Hardcover – February 28, 2006

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Her approach to language is a beguiling mix of charm and research. (USA Today)

Wallraff picks her way through language thickets with a sure step and a generous attitude. (Boston Globe)

“Barbara Wallraff proves herself to be a wise, witty, and marvelously entertaining guide through the jungle of English usage.” (Francine Prose, author of A Changed Man and Blue Angel)

“There is a discovery and a smile on every page.” (James Fallows, National Magazine Award-winning correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly)

“No fugitive word, however crafty or devious, can escape the clutches of that peerless lexical sleuth Barbara Wallraff.” (Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English)

“This book should carry a warning sign...it contains several hundred seriously twisted puns.” (Charles C. Mann, author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus)

“Read it alone. It might be embarassing to chortle so much in public.” (Merl Reagle, Sunday Crossword Puzzle Creator, The Los Angeles Times)

“A delightful book on an entertaining and fascinating topic: how we coin words.” (Steven Pinker, Professor, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct, Words and Rules, and How the Mind Works.)

“...achieved with as much wit and tact as earnestness and wisdom (Booklist)

...an up-to-date guide to usage that can be both pleasurably browsed and quickly consulted... (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Barbara Wallraff is a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly, where she has worked since 1983. Doing justice to the English language has long been a professional specialty of hers. She has written for the New York Times Magazine's “On Language” column, she is a former commissioner of the Word Police, and National Public Radio's Morning Edition once asked her to copyedit the U.S. Constitution. Her name appears in a Trivial Pursuit question -- but not in the answer. Wallraff is the author of the national best seller Word Court and Your Own Words. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (February 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060832738
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060832735
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,276,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Samuel Jay Keyser on March 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Every language in the world has the capability of producing an infinite number of words. Just think of constructions like "anti-ballistic missile" or "anti-anti ballistic missile" or "anti-anti-anti ballistic missile" and so on. After awhile, making them up becomes a bore. Not so in "Word Fugitives." Here the trick is to come up with words to name situations as yet unnamed. What do you call the feeling, for example, just after you thought you had stepped off the curb and suddenly realized you were falling? Bad news? "Word Fugitives" does much better than that. It is a funhouse of a book, finding new words for old situations in clever, amusing and quite unexpected ways. This book is first and foremost fun to read. Then it will provoke you. And finally, it will enlighten you. For those of you lost in the thicket of lexicography, this book is a machete.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought that English was a rich language, with special terms for everything, until I read Word Fugitives, having heard about it on NPR. There are so many missing terms - holes in the language, as Barbara Wallraff calls them - and so many ways to plug them. This book is full of the solutions, all wonderful and funny. One favorite: getting in one line at the supermarket only to find another moving faster - what is it? Misalinement. How can I get my favorite new word to stick? Umm...that's another matter, and Word Fugitives has some tips.

All in all, really amusing.
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Format: Hardcover
This fantastic mind expanding book has grown out of Ms.Barbara Wallraff's column in The Atlantic Monthly. Something that I have followed for years. It overflows with diversions, (e.g. "English hasn't had a new pronoun for about a thousand years, and there is no sign it will acquire one any time soon") quizzes, contributions and comments from people who are authorities, linguists, authors and plus the fact that it is made sprightly cheerful by supplications from people who are groping for words that remain to be found. Quoted as "English at a Loss for Words",even when Global Language Monitor, an organization estimates there are more than 900,000 words in the English language, and more are being added every day.

To explain about this book, even when we know that feeling it is often that we are not able to find the exact word that defines it - often that word does not exist, (Or it is a sniglet - "word that should be in the dictionary, but isn't) - despite the exuberant and extravagant richness of our language. This endeavor by Ms. Wallraff proves, and I am beginning to be convinced that perhaps even language such as English is dismayingly inadequate. This book comes to rescue providing hundreds of words minted, coined, redefined or delimitated. Just like when you're looking for a word that can mean either "a phantom" or "an ideal" -- eidolon would come handy.

- People who blabber loudly and annoyingly on cell-phones in public? Yakasses.

- Disposable plastic bags caught in trees? Fouliage.

- And when look up a word in a dictionary, and get distracted by something totally off the subject, on the other side of the page? This is called double-entry-bookpeeping. Or is it lexploring?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's not so much that the words in Word Fugitives are in flight, but rather they are waiting to be created. Ms. Wallraff has captured a moment in a highly fertile time for neologisms. Since publication of this slim volume, many new words have entered our language, but the real value of this book is the author's establishment of a perspective in which to view the birth of a new vocabulary.

Having (barely) survived a period in which so many new words were added to our language not from necessity, but from ignorance (e.g. :incentivize" where motivate has long served us well), it's exciting to think we are at the beginning of an era in which linguistic creativity serves a real need.

I recommend Word Fugitives to anyone who revels in the vitality of the English language and the inventiveness of the Anglophones.
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