Words About Words

I will be writing about a very self-referential topic, that is, words about words about words. Specifically, words the books in the 400s about language and how it works. If you want to enhance your linguistic capabilities, justify your usage of the Oxford comma, or just simply wonder about words, there is a library display with a delightfully wordy collection of books about a variety of topics related to writing in English.

The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal (422 Crystal) tells the history and origin of 100 words, and you can a learn a variety of fun facts about each. These how the word “music” has been spelled over 40 ways throughout history, as well as changes in the British and American editions of the Harry Potter books. A similar book, What in the Word?: Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to the Peskiest Questions About Language by Charles Harrington Elster (422 Elster) describes the linguistic quirks that created some common and uncommon words and expressions, including pronunciations and usage.

Punctuation is a closely related topic, and one that can increase the clarity and precision of written language. For a broad overview of practical punctuation, there is Punctuation for Review and Reference: A Style Manual with Exercises by Edward Voeller (428.2 Voeller). If you are looking for a more in-depth look at punctuation and why it matters, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (428.2 Truss) allows the reader to “look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are.”

If you are curious about how language affects communication, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher (410 Deutscher) proposes that the language we speak can influence how we think and express ideas, while arguing that not all languages are equally complex. Colors such as blue and green are expressed differently, depending on the language being spoken, with varying descriptions and levels of detail. This book is also a fascinating way for English speakers to learn a little bit about how different languages can be from one another. One example that this book uses to illustrate the variety that exists is ǃXóõ, a language spoken in parts of Botswana and Namibia, which contains perhaps the highest number of phenomes and click consonants in any language in the world.

Languages can also affect group identity and how people relate to one another. You Are What You Speak by Robert Lane Greene (417 Greene) describes how the quest for societies to have a unified language with which to communicate created communities, forged national and ethnic identities, has led some people to denounce incorrect or non-standardized use of a particular language, has led others to encourage learning multiple languages, and the wide-ranging effects of politics in language. It is a broad, complex topic, which is worth exploring because of how language and identity are intertwined.

Finally, if you are wanting more utilitarian options, there are several dictionaries and thesauruses on the shelf in the 400s in nonfiction for those times when you need a specific word for your sentence. There is also The Handy English Grammar Answer Book by Christine Hult (428.2 Hult) for connecting those words together in a way that is easily understandable. If you want to explore any and all of the words you need to achieve optimum wordiness, spectacular sentences, and promising paragraphs, there are many books that will help you to do that in a variety of ways!