A lively and informative study, not to mention wonderful cocktail party material.

NINE NASTY WORDS

ENGLISH IN THE GUTTER: THEN, NOW, AND FOREVER

A prominent linguist probes the most transgressive words in English.

The power of profanity is obvious, but the sources of its power aren’t as easy to account for. Why is one combination of sounds taboo and not another? Why don’t damn and hell have the same ring today that they did in the past? Is there one N-word, or are there two? To answer such questions, McWhorter, the author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Words on the Move, and other notable works, does what linguists do: He teases out “structure in what seems like chaos, mess, or the trivial.” The book is a systematic treatment of cursing that combines historical analyses of the evolution of usage, etymologies, linguistic tables, and amusing anecdotes. It’s distinctive McWhorter, dense yet breezy, jumping from one reference to another. A characteristic passage reads, “Yoga moms, not just sailors, are covered in tattoos. Toddlers ask for edamame and pad thai instead of Spaghettios. Hell becomes a scalar particle. Language, like life, is this.” Setting aside fashion and food, much of McWhorter's analysis is grounded in music, film, and stage, the histories of which he seemingly knows as well as language. It makes for a delightful style when you don’t have to stop to look up a reference, and alongside the pizzazz is real substance. Take the author’s macro observation about what is considered a curse, shifting from the religious sphere (damn) to the physical (shit) to where they are now most charged, in the sociological and ethnic arenas. This trajectory is not accidental. “For Americans of this post-countercultural cohort [Gen X],” McWhorter writes, “the pox on matters of God and the body seemed quaint beyond discussion, while a pox on matters of slurring groups seemed urgent beyond discussion. The N-word euphemism was an organic outcome.” The book is replete with such insights.

A lively and informative study, not to mention wonderful cocktail party material.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18879-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Avery

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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