If you’re shipping out for summer, consider toting one of these new books about language aboard. They’ll make nifty gifts for grads and dads as well.
Former English teacher Ellen Sue Feld brings patience, positivity and pep to “Comma Sense: Your Guide to Grammar Victory.” With chapters on everything from pronouns to punctuation, this friendly guide untangles nettlesome usage snarls, e.g., coarse/course; principal/principle; compliment/complement; and wet/whet. Her rigorous course on the principles of grammar is complemented by a spritely spirit that’s sure to whet your appetite for precise writing.
English has now become the lingua franca of the internet, international business and pop culture. Two new books examine the positive and negative consequences of this linguistic dominance. In “The Rise of English: Global Politics and the Power of Language,” Rosemary Salomone explains how English oils the gears of international commerce and intellectual exchange. In the nations she studied, she found that speaking English correlated with a higher income and a higher social status.
One downside of the rise of English is the destruction of native languages; nearly 600 languages around the world are now in danger of extinction. As James Griffiths points out in “Speak Not: Empire, Identity and the Politics of Language,” this can lead to the loss of cultural identity and heritage. He shows how speakers of Welsh, Hawaiian and Cantonese are vigorously fighting back to preserve their native tongues.
Two new books take a lively look at the origins of some of our favorite expressions. In “Why Do We Say That?” Scott Matthews explains that “in the limelight” derives from the burning of “quicklime” (calcium oxide) to produce stage light in 19th-century theaters, and that medieval apprentices held candles to illuminate their masters’ work, which is why we say that an unskilled person isn’t even qualified to “hold a candle” (be an assistant) to a top-notch expert.
In “Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red,” Andrew Thompson explains that “eating humble pie” derives from an icky pie filled with animal entrails, known as “umbles,” instead of quality meat, and that “cut and run” refers to ships that fled sudden attack quickly by cutting the rope to the anchor rather than taking time to hoist it.
Time for me to cut and run. Have a great summer!
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His new book, “Mark My Words,” is available for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.