Whorfianism — the idea that language shapes thought, and each language creates a distinct worldview — is an appealing idea. But there's one problem: Whorfianism, at least dogmatic Whorfianism, is a huge load of bunk, at least according to John McWhorter's new book The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language.  Continue reading...

As Black History Month comes to a close, we are proud to feature a fantastic new reference book: Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. states in the foreword, it is an "impressively researched and documented collection of the finest thought produced by writers throughout the African diaspora." Here we present an excerpt from the preface by the book's editor, Retha Powers.  Continue reading...

Wit lovers rejoice! There's a new edition (the fifth) of The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. Gyles Brandreth has taken the editorial reins from the late Ned Sherrin, and the new edition fine-tunes what was already an impressive and entertaining reference work.  Continue reading...

The Crossword Revolution

Dec. 21, 2013 marks the hundredth anniversary of the crossword puzzle. But the crossword has come a long way since Arthur Wynne's first creation for The New York World. In a lively new book entitled The Curious History of the Crossword, Ben Tausig, himself a noted constructor and editor of crosswords, argues that the day Will Shortz took over the New York Times crossword 20 years ago marked a watershed moment in the puzzle's history.  Continue reading...

In 1835, Charles Follen wrote, "The German language is sufficiently copious and productive, to furnish native words for any idea that can be expressed at all." In Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition, Ben Schott proves Follen correct, while establishing himself as the Rich Hall of German with this wonderful collection of Sniglet-like terms.  Continue reading...

Some punctuation marks hog the spotlight, like the versatile, omnipresent comma and the flirty, oft-abused semicolon. Question marks and exclamation marks — the good cop, bad cop of punctuation — are forever in your face. The period subtly but emphatically makes its presence known, while parentheses are off gossiping and tittering like teenage girls. These are the usual suspects most people think of when it comes to punctuation.  Continue reading...

I'm jealous.

That's my 2-word review of How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark, who I assume will appreciate the brevity.  Continue reading...

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