The Life of Language: The Fascinating Ways Words are Born, Live & Die

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9780375721137: The Life of Language: The Fascinating Ways Words are Born, Live & Die

If time travelers from the nineteenth century dropped in on us, our strange vocabulary would shock them just as much as our TVs, cars, and computers. Society changes, and so does its word stock. The Life of Language reveals how pop culture, business, technology, and other forces of globalization expand and enrich the English language, forming thousands of new words every year. In this fascinating and jargon-free guide, lexicographers Kipfer and Steinmetz reconstruct the births of thousands of words, including infantries, poz, mobs, Soho, dinks, choo choos, frankenfoods, LOL, narcs and perps.

· A word lover’s guide to etymology, written in a fun, informal, and accessible style
· An excellent resource for vocabulary building; a word's root helps readers understand its meaning
· Beautifully packaged paperback with French flaps

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About the Author:

Barbara Ann Kipfer is a lexicographer, archaeologist, and the author of more than 25 books, including How it Happens, 4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone, 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, and The Order of Things.

Sol Steinmetz is a well-known lexicographer and former editor–in–chief at Random House Reference.

Review:

The Life of Language, subtitled “the fascinating ways words are born, live and die,” by Sol Steinmetz and Barbara Ann Kipfer (Random House trade paperback, $17). This scholarly but easy-to-breeze-through introduction to the world of words, written by a pair of crack lexicographers (Sol is a longtime mentor of On Language), ranks as the linguistic bargain of the year.
From baby talk to back-formation, from minting new words to functional shift, the subjects are treated with amusing erudition. The chapter on reduplication – “flip-flopping higgledy-piggledy through the riffraff” – differentiates rhyming compounds like bigwig, hotshot, ragtag, sci-fi from repetitions called tautonyms, such as bye-bye, so-so, rah-rah, as well as from ricochet words in which the repeated element is modified: chit-chat, roly-poly, shilly-shally.
They reveal the source of the “schm-/shm- reduplication,” from the Yiddish koyfn, shmoyfn, “To buy, not to buy, who cares?” This construction led to the adoption in English of fancy-schmancy to mean “pretentious” and to the jocular derogation of a host of words and names (“Oedipus, schmoedipus – as long as he loves his mother”). Boinng!
--William Safire, The New York Times, December 3, 2006

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