Editor: Erin McKean
Fun Fact: Dictionaries didn’t used to be objective and included information beyond definitions. For example, Webster’s 1806 edition stated that the earth was created in 4004BC.
Review Summary: This collection included some really funny essays and some that are only going to be enjoyable if you love collecting obscure words.
Verbatim: The Language Quarterly is a periodical that accepts reader submitted essays on all things related to the English language. The book is a collection of some of editor Erin McKean’s favorite essays from her time as editor of the periodical. Topics range from word origins to grammar to pop culture jargon. Authors also express a variety of opinions, from a willingness to embrace changes to the English language to essays lambasting particular developments the author hates.
This is actually the first essay collection I’ve read and as other people almost always say, I really enjoyed some of the essays while others just didn’t do it for me. The essays I liked the most generally fell into two categories. First, the essays where the authors complained about particular new developments in speech and writing were often the funniest. I loved the tongue-in-cheek ones where the authors sarcastically lauded the part of speech they were actually disparaging. And the ones where the authors used the part of speech they were complaining about to make their point were also very good.
The second type of essays was a category I found particularly interesting: those having to do with pop culture. The essay on “Buffy-isms” (new words introduced in the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was by far my favorite of these. In the pop culture category, anyone thinking of handing this to a teen who loves language should be warned that the collection features articles on the origin of several curse words and on the language of the BDSM scene. Just so you know.
A final category of essay included most of those I didn’t like: the list essay. These essays were basically just long lists of words and definitions. If you truly love language for the sake of language and are the sort of person who collects obscure but enjoyable words, these essays will be perfect for you. Personally, I love language, but don’t obsess over individual words enough to enjoy these rather dry essays. Obviously, the beauty of an essay collection is that you can pick and choose, so if you simply love language, I would still recommend giving this book a chance.