This Just In: Reference/Language

Five Brand-New Titles from the Reference/Language Section:

Planet Word by J. P. Davidson

‘The way you speak is who you are and the tones of your voice and the tricks of your emailing and tweeting and letter-writing, can be recognised unmistakably in the minds of those who know and love you.’ Stephen Fry

From feral children to fairy-tale princesses, secrets codes, invented languages – even a language that was eaten! – Planet Word uncovers everything you didn’t know you needed to know about how language evolves. Learn the tricks to political propaganda, why we can talk but animals can’t, discover 3,000-year-old clay tablets that discussed beer and impotence and test yourself at textese – do you know your RMEs from your LOLs? Meet the 105-year-old man who invented modern-day Chinese and all but eradicated illiteracy, and find out why language caused the go-light in Japan to be blue. From the dusty scrolls of the past to the unknown digital future, and with (heart) the first graphic to enter the OED, are we already well on our way to a language without words?

In a round-the-world trip of a lifetime, discover all this and more as J. P. Davidson travels across our gloriously, endlessly intriguing multilingual Planet Word.

You Talkin’ To Me?: The Art of Persuasion from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith

Rhetoric is what gives words power. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It isn’t the exclusive preserve of politicians: it’s everywhere, from your argument with the insurance company to your plea to the waitress for a table near the window. It convicts criminals (and then frees them on appeal). It causes governments to rise and fall, best men to be shunned by brides, and people to march with steady purpose towards machine guns. In this highly entertaining (and persuasive) book, Sam Leith examines how people have taught, practised and thought about rhetoric from its Attic origins to its twenty-first century apotheosis. Along the way, he tells the stories of its heroes and villains, from Cicero and Erasmus, to Hitler, Obama – and Gyles Brandreth.

The Language Wars: A History of Proper English by Henry Hitchings

The English language is a battlefield. Since the age of Shakespeare, arguments over correct usage have been acrimonious, and those involved have always really been contesting values – to do with morality, politics and class. THE LANGUAGE WARS examines the present state of the conflict, its history and its future. Above all, it uses the past as a way of illuminating the present. Moving chronologically, the book explores the most persistent issues to do with English and unpacks the history of ‘proper’ usage. Where did these ideas spring from? Which of today’s bugbears and annoyances are actually venerable? Who has been on the front line in the language wars?

THE LANGUAGE WARS examines grammar rules, regional accents, swearing, spelling, dictionaries, political correctness, and the role of electronic media in reshaping language. It also takes a look at such niggling concerns as the split infinitive, elocution and text messaging. Peopled with intriguing characters such as Jonathan Swift, H. W. Fowler and George Orwell as well as the more disparate figures of Lewis Carroll, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lenny Bruce, THE LANGUAGE WARS is an essential volume for anyone interested in the state of the English language today or intrigued about its future.

Strictly English: The Correct Way to Write… And Why It Matters by Simon Heffer

Simon Heffer’s incisive and amusingly despairing emails to colleagues at the The Daily Telegraph about grammatical mistakes and stylistic slips have attracted a growing band of ardent fans over recent years. Now, in his new book Strictly English, he makes an impassioned case for an end to the sloppiness that has become such a hallmark of everyday speech and writing, and shows how accuracy and clarity are within the grasp of anyone who is prepared to take the time to master a few simple rules.

If you wince when you see “different than” in print, or are offended by people who think that “infer” and “imply” mean the same thing, then this book will provide reassurance that you are not alone. And if you believe that precise and elegant English really does matter, then it will prove required reading.

One for Sorrow: A Book of Old-Fashioned Lore by Chloe Rhodes

Many of the popular, often prophetic, phrases that we use on a day-to-day basis have their roots in traditional folklore. For example: ‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer’; ‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb’; and, ‘One for sorrow, two for joy’. Such common idioms are familiar to most people, but their history and origins are far from well known. However, in “One for Sorrow” readers will discover that there is a wealth of fascinating stories and history behind them. This charming book is filled with sayings, legends and proverbs derived from the oral history of the countryside and unveils how they came about, what they mean, and how they came to be such a big part of the language we use today. Written with a light touch and expert knowledge, it will entertain and inform in equal measure – the perfect gift for anyone with an interest in the rich and varied heritage of the English language.