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There are connoisseurs. There are virtuosos. And then there are mavens. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer William Safire is the maven's maven. In this new collection from his New York Times Magazine column, "On Language," Safire - using alliteration, puns, and other tricks of the writer's trade - offers a cornucopia of words, phrases, slang, and grammatical oddities, proving once again why Time calls him "the country's best practitioner of the art of columny."
Safire probes the surprising origins of such expressions as "kiss and tell," "people of color," "stab in the back," "bonfire of the vanities," and the whole nine yards. He attempts to explain what a White House press secretary meant when he announced, "We can't winkle-picker this anymore." He even explores tricky new usages of the word "fax." Quoth the maven: "In work conducted at home or at the office, the only certainties are death and faxes."
Was George Bush (or speechwriter Peggy Noonan) the first to put "kinder and gentler" together? No, quoth the maven, who calls attention to similar incantations by Clarence Darrow, Mario Cuomo, and William Shakespeare. Safire also traces the evolution of "read my lips" and exposes the proud (or embarrassed) coiners of such terms as "lunatic fringe" and "nattering nabobs of negativism" (his own creation, he admits - an update of Adlai Stevenson's "prophets of doom and gloom").
Never one to shrink from a challenge, the maven boldly seeks a source for George Bush's inexplicable expression "like ugly on an ape." The best he can find is Margaret Mitchell's "ugly like a hairless monkey" in Gone with the Wind. Fortunately, Safire is not alone in such lexicographic quests. A faithful corps of would-be mavens - including Cuomo, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Phyllis Schlafly, and Alistair Cooke - supply Safire with their own research and opinions.
Knowledgeable, witty, and impeccably grammatical, William Safire's essays on language are an important and entertaining reference for mavens everywhere.
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More delightful linguistic nit-picking from Safire. This seventh collection of the author's ``On Language'' columns (Language Maven Strikes Again, 1990, etc.), reprinted from The New York Times Magazine, finds him in fine and cranky fettle: Instead of an opening acknowledgments page, he gives us ``Credits,'' since ``Acknowledgments is a word that, to me, connotes grudging admission of the need to say thanks....Besides, the snooty word has a fake Latin prefix: hell with it.'' Although the columns cover scores of topics ranging from ``drug-war lingo'' to the phrase ``pushing the envelope'' and the idiosyncrasies of apostrophes, readers will note the regularity with which Safire tackles the utterances of George Bush--for example, the former President's description ``of a photo session at which he makes remarks but refuses to answer reporters' questions as `a limited photo op cum statement sans questions' ''). As in the earlier collections, much of the fun here comes from the many readers' responses to the columns--e.g., Leo Rosten, commenting on Safire's piece on political phrasing, remembering his own unsuccessful attempt, while at the RAND Corporation, to complement the word ``warfare'' with ``peacefare''; or the fellow from Pleasantville, New York, who answers Safire's column about misplaced plurals by citing the story of the Bronx woman who asked her daughter, Bella, for a ``Kleeneck'': ``Bella said, `Ma, it's Kleenex.' To which Ma replied, `Yeah, I know, but I only want one.' '' -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
The usage expert's tenth book on language is another witty and erudite collection of syndicated columns (previously published in the New York Times Magazine ) on grammar, etymology, and shades of meaning. Drawing material from politics and pop culture, Safire will please all lovers of language in his musings on usage and the origins of buzzwords. He struggles to keep his conservative politics out of these columns (not always successfully, since many of them appeared during the 1988 election), and he is sometimes cloyingly clever. But he is never obscure, and comments from readers (the "Gotcha! Gang")--as many as 15 letters are appended to each column--render the tone conversational, not dictatorial. Entry subjects range from "Iron Curtain " and "kinder, gentler nation" to "winkle-picker" and "junk fax." Highly recommended for all collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/93.
- Jack Lynch, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Book Description Random House, 1993. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0679423249
Book Description Random House, 1993. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0679423249
Book Description Random House, 1993. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110679423249