The Mother Tongue

Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990.

Reason read: December is Bill Bryson’s birth month. Read in his honor.

The language that we speak is akin to breathing. What I mean to say is you really don’t thinking about breathing in or breathing out. You just do it. Same with talking. Most of us don’t think often or long enough about the words we use. Even less of us think about where those words came from in the first place. Language is a powerful tool, used for good, evil or even just plain fun. Think about how lawyers can twist an innocent person’s words into an admission of guilt. Crossword puzzles are counting on you to think of the wrong use or meaning of a word when you are trying to fill in the squares. Jokes are often based on word play: either funny or groan-worthy puns. Words matter. When words are strung together to form sentences, they mean even more. Bryson’s Mother Tongue is nothing short of a run-on sentence about language facts. Page after page after page of witticisms about words. An onslaught of linguistic trivia. That is not to say I did not enjoy Mother Tongue. I found it fascinating to learn that Robert Lowth simply didn’t care for the pairing of “you” and “was” and demanded it be changed to “you were.” Explanation for some grammatical rules “they are because they are” is the equivalent of a parent saying “because I said so.” I enjoyed learning that the word asparagus comes from the combined words sparrow and grass and that al fresco in Italian does not mean being outside, but rather, in prison. It reminded me of runner and anthropologist Dr. Tommy ‘Rivs’ Puzey. He taught me that you have to be careful how you pronounce Machu Picchu. The wrong emphasis could mean something completely different. Just make sure you pronounce the second ‘c’ in Picchu. Wink, wink. Probably my most favorite discovery was the word aposiopesis: the breaking off of thought. I suffer from that all the time!

Quotes to quote, “More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to” (p 11). I would be included in that rest. another one, “When you look into the background of these “rules” there is often little basis for them” (p 141). Amen to that.

Author fact: At the time of publication Bryson was an American living it England.

Book trivia: Mother Tongue was written in 1990. What can we say about the English speaking world thirty-plus years later?

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mother Tongue. She didn’t even give it an asterisk to indicate a must read.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).

The New Well-Tempered Sentence

Gordon, Karen Elizabeth. The New Well-Tempered Sentence: a Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.NewYork: Ticknor & Fields, 1993.

This is the kind of book the coolest of cool professors would use in a writing class. The language is hip and humorous, the illustrations funny and fabulous. While Gordon lays down the law about when and where to use an exclamation point, a period, a comma, or semi colon, I don’t feel obligated to follow her to the letter (or period). I read The New Well-Tempered Sentence as merely suggestion; here’s what you can do, if you so chose (and obviously I don’t). Think Edward Estlin Cummings. Gordon is careful to use witty examples and whimsical illustrations to prove her points to go along with that hip and cool vibe. This is the essential reference book you have on your shelf and because it is so funky you are not ashamed to have it in plain sight.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Words to the Wise” (p 249). For this particular inclusion the chapter would have been more appropriate if called, “Words to the Wise About Writing Words” because Gordon’s book is all about punctuation.

August ’10 was…

August. The last gasp of summer before everyone starts thinking about back-to-school clothes, back-to-school school supplies and back-to-school attitudes. I know my college has already adopted the attitude now that the athletes and international students have started arriving on campus. August was quiet compared to July’s crazy traveling. But, for books it was:

  • The All-Girl Football Team by Lewis Nordan ~ Nordan is my emotional train wreck.
  • Zarafa: a Giraffes’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris by Michael Allin ~ in honor of Napoleon’s birth month even though Napoleon is a teeny part of the story
  • Zel by Donna Jo Napoli ~ the clever, psychological retelling of Rapunzel.
  • The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester ~ in honor of National Language Month, but I didn’t finish it. Not even close.
  • Undaunted Courage by Simon Winchester ~ a really interesting account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles ~ probably one of my all-time favorite books.

For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program: I started reading Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann. Review coming in September.

For fun I read:

  • fit = female: the perfect fitness and nutrition game plan for your unique body type by geralyn b. coopersmith ~ the cover of the book didn’t use capital letters so neither did i.
  • Nutrition for Life: The no-fad, no-nonsense approach to eating well and researching your healthy weight by Lisa Hark, Phd, RD & Darwin Deen, MD ~ this is a really, really informative book.

Meaning of Everything

Winchester, Simon. The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

I suppose since Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything serves as a follow-up to The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary I should link to the review of The Professor…here.

I hate to admit this, but I didn’t care for The Meaning of Everything. Okay, while I’m being honest I’ll go for broke – I didn’t get beyond page 19. There. I said it. I was bored. As a person deeply connected to reading you would think I would be intimate with words, especially the origin of words. I mean, words form sentences and sentences form paragraphs and paragraphs form pages and pages fill books, right? And books are what it’s all about, right? No. I guess the bottom line is I don’t care about where the word came from. The word, when it stands alone, is boring. How sad is that? I need words strung together into sentences. Those sentences need to be woven together to ultimately make a story interesting. This, however, was not.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Dewey Deconstructed: 400s” (p 68).

August ’09 Is…

August is a long awaited trip homehome. August is the trials and tribulations of hiring. August is a little Avett Brothers, drums and Sean for music. August is getting back to cooking. August is so many different things, including a goal of 84 miles. Don’t ask. Here’s what August is for books:

  • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (the easiest way to celebrate National Language Month.)
  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (Marking the anniversary of hurricane Katrina later this month – The Moviegoer takes place in New Orleans.)
  • Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch (Celebrating Busch’s birth month.)
  • Turbulent Souls by Stephen J. Dubner (Blame it on someone else month. I think I’ll have to wait for the review to explain this one.)
  • These Tremendous Mountains by David Freeman Hawke (Celebrating the expedition of Lewis and Clark)
  • Wind, Sand & Stars by Antoine Du Saint (August is National Aviation Month)

And for LibraryThing it is: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey and I really, really should reread the one Early Review book I didn’t get around to reviewing, Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni.

For fun it’s a┬ábunch of running band vegetable books. Go figure.