I’ve got a small stack of books that publishers have sent me and I’ve enjoyed looking through, but for one reason or another haven’t written posts about. Here’s a brief description of each; any of them would make a good stocking-stuffer if you’re stuck for a last-minute giftie.
The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, by Chris Baldick, is a nice, compact reference work that includes entries as general as “romance” and as specific as “rispetto” (“An alternative name, especially in Tuscany, for the Italian verse form more widely known as the strambotto“). The entry for skaz is quite well done; the heart of it reads: “The term is now used more generally in studies of fictional prose for the exploitation of colloquial speech in first-person narratives, especially where the narrator’s language is marked by non-literary or indecorous features such as slang and dialect terms, expletives, solecisms, malapropisms, hesitations, and other indications that the narrative is to be understood as being ‘spoken’ rather than written down.” Of course, these days one is likely to reach for the computer if one wants to know this kind of thing, but if you like actual books to leaf through, this is a good one.
Curse and Berate in 69+ Languages is just what it sounds like, and would make a fitting accompaniment to my book except for the minor detail that it’s thoroughly unreliable. I have no idea how thoroughly the entries for languages like Sinhala, Slovenian, and Northern Sotho were vetted (though I suspect the answer is: not very thoroughly), but the ones for languages I know are full of typos, misspellings, and other blemishes. (On page 30, the names of three different Soviet general secretaries are misspelled in inventive ways; Yeltsin, for instance, becomes Ыелтзен.) If you know someone who is more concerned with fun than accuracy, this book is a hell of a lot of fun.

Lost In Translation: Misadventures in English Abroad, by Charlie Croker (website), is a collection of signs found abroad in amusingly off English. Samples:
Barbershop in Zanzibar, Tanzania: Gentlemen’s throats cut with nice sharp razors.
On a Taiwanese shampoo: Use repeatedly for severe damage.
The trouble with this, as with collections of Things Children Say, is that you can never be sure if the items are real or invented, and for me that drains a lot of the pleasure out of it. But I suspect I am in the minority here, and apparently lots of people have enjoyed it, because there’s a sequel (Still Lost in Translation).
I wrote about Charles Hodgson’s History of Wine Words: An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories of Wine, Vine, and Grape from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle in this post; his earlier book Carnal Knowledge: A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia is also excellent, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of body-related terms.
And with that, I wish everyone a happy holiday season, and for those of you who will celebrate Christmas tomorrow (or, if you’re over there beyond the date line, are already celebrating it): Merry/Happy Christmas!


  1. Now why would anyone invent examples of off English when all you need to do is keep your eyes open? And sometimes not even that, like in the case of a huge sign I see every day on my way to work proudly proclaiming a certain educational establishment to be a “lingual private kindergarten”. And sure enough, they have a website.
    Merry Christmas everybody!

  2. Oh my, if any bookstore remains open in DC tomorrow (Dec 25), I will rummage away to find the most excellent sounding “History of Wine Words…” That book was written for me, and me only. I MUST find it. Thanks!

  3. Merry Christmas, Mr. Hat!

  4. As a devout grinch, I just poppped in to say that I hope everybody day is everything they hope for it to be. The 25th is nearly over here, spent in the glorious summer sun by the beach. Since this blog is devoted to language, I will throw in a “word of the day” – hāngi, ours was tino pai! To all, best wishes for a great time and thanks to all for the entertainment and education you have provided, most especially our gracious host!

  5. And a pleasant Feast of Stephen to thee…
    a roasted butt of wild boar with several jugs of Claret should make the day a glorious one for you and yours…
    Ur fiend
    (from whence came “Bah Humbug”)

  6. Wolf: The three kiddies in the barrel in your St. Nick picture are the three children who were chopped up by a 3rd (?) century butcher to be sold as pork, but whom St. Nick rescued and made whole again …

  7. Hmm…according to wiki, the Feast of Stephen is celebrated by Western Christianity on Dec. 26 and in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine tradition on Dec. 27. Depending on the quality of the claret, we may not see a new LH post for another day or two.

  8. Victor Sonkin says

    Re Lost in Translation: What, it’s just text, not photographs of signs, menus and the like? It decreases the instructive value of such a book by, I’d say, about 100 %.
    Merry Christmas!

  9. I hope you had a nice Christmas, Languagehat! Thanks for the tip on the dictionary of literary terms — that looks like a fun one.

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