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Coined by Shakespeare, Words and Meanings First Penned by the Bard
by Jeffrey McQuain and Stanley Malless

The authors have done a fine job here. They provide a collection of words, and a few phrases, first used or coined by Shakespeare, just as the title suggests. The book is in dictionary format, with entries in alphabetical order. Not only do the entries provide the meaning of each word, but they discuss what the word's form was, if it existed at all, before Shakespeare used it. (Read the rest of our review from a recent newsletter.)

Alpha Beta, How 26 Letters shaped the Western World
by John Man

Mr. Man says in his foreward: "This book is about one of humanity's greatest ideas - the idea of alphabet - and its most widespread form: the system of letters you are now reading. Three features of the idea stand out: its uniqueness, its simplicity, and its adaptability. From the alphabet's earliest manifestation 4000 years ago, all other alphabets take their cue; and all reflect the idea's underlying simplicity." That's probably a good summation of the book.  (Read the rest of our review from a  recent newsletter.)

Word Freak
by Stefan Fatsis

Read Mike's review of this fascinating book in the Aug 1, 2001 issue of our companion newsletter.

Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes of a Word Watcher
by Lewis Thomas

Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes of a Word-Watcher is a fascinating collection of 40 brief essays on words that "enchanted and obsessed" Lewis Thomas for over 20 years. Thomas, in writing that is fascinating, lucid and thought-provoking, takes up the origin of words, the development of language, and the light that words shed on the history of mankind.. In each essay he departs from a word or words (mostly) of Indo-European origin-the root of almost all the languages in the Western world-and explores the ancient networks of sound and sense, telling us how language preserves us, binds us, and makes us a social species. A brilliant, insightful guide, Thomas maneuvers gracefully through the varied and entertaining routes that have made words like DAINTY and DIGNITY, originally of the same root, become so removed from one another today; how FOOT is at the root of PESSIMISM; and much more (review from

The Book on the Bookshelf
By Henry Petroski

An Reference Editor's Choice.  Says that editor:  When Henry Petroski's "The Book on the Bookshelf" first landed on my desk, I was dubious. "An entire book about bookshelves? Sounds about as exciting as the history of the paper clip." An evening perusing the book soon made me change my mind. Petroski's charming and erudite history of book storage is really an analysis of our drive to categorize and store information for quick access. And as Petroski clearly shows, when it come to our quest for knowledge, we humans can be amazingly resourceful.   Say Melanie and Mike: We were mesmerized by this book and spent quite some time with it in the book store, so fascinating was it!  It's not etymological but it is so interesting that we had to recommend it.

The Professor and the Madman

Reviewed in the newsletter for the week of November 8, 1999 (see the newsletter Archive).  An audio cassette version is also available.

Noah Webster and the American Dictionary

Noah Webster was described by the publisher of a competing dictionary as "a vain, ... plodding Yankee, who aspired to be a second Johnson"-a criticism that rings mostly true. He was certainly vain and, born in Connecticut, undeniably a Yankee. Moreover, though he referred to Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language as a "barren desart of philology," the American lexicographer relied heavily on the book during the creation of his own American Dictionary, going so far as to filch whole sections. And few would seem more "plodding" than Webster, who was positively obsessed with collecting and preserving bits of information. He kept records of the weather, carefully logged the number of houses in every new town he passed through, filed away every scrap of his writing and everything written about him, and filled the margins of his books with references, dates and corrections. The proud Yankee's sensibilities, however, also made him a fine lexicographer. Generally credited with distinguishing American spelling and usage from British, Webster shunned prescriptive mores and was doggedly loyal to his own language habits, as well as to those of the average American speaker. The book covers Webster's major publications and the influences and methods that shaped them; recounts his life as schoolteacher, copyright law champion, and itinerant lecturer; and examines the Webster legacy. An appendix containing title page reproductions from Webster's books, as well as some from his predecessors and competitors, is also included. 

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