Thursday, February 26, 2015

there, their, they're..its ok

The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be Tuesday, March 31st at 6:30pm and the topic up for discussion will be novels about art & artists!

We met earlier this week to talk about language, grammar, and linguistics.  GRG members come from various regions of the country so this meeting was full of information and laughter as we shared our particular regionalisms during the discussion.

( The Word Detective, aka Evan Morris, is in and open for business. This collection of Morris's language columns, which appear in newspapers worldwide and on his award-winning website, cracks the case on hundreds of perplexing words and phrases.

Fielding questions from his loyal readers with his distinctive brand of humor and unique approach to language, Morris hears from Sean via the Internet, who wants to know if nerd made its first appearance on Happy Days. (Morris, however, traces it back further-to Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.) Ryan M. isn't quite sure if being caught red-handed is a reference to dye bombs put in bags of money that detonate when stolen. (The word Detective explains that it came into use during the 15th century, when the blood on the murderer's hands gave him away.) Laura V. is under the impression that a potboiler is a book that can be read while waiting for a pot to boil. (Morris relieves her of this assumption by explaining that a potboiler is written by a writer in desperate need of something to boil in a pot.)

(venezky, "Perhaps the most successful of the series issued after the Civil War was the Appleton School Readers, authored by William Torrey Harris, Andrew Jackson Rickoff, and Mark Bailey. This series represents what is probably the first modern, corporately sponsored reading program. The authors were all highly visible educational figures, selected to represent different regions of the country, different expertise in education, and at least with the first two, to facilitate entry into major school systems" (Venezky, 1990b, p. xx).

( In what other language, asks Lederer, do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway, and your nose can run and your feet can smell? In CRAZY ENGLISH, Lederer frolics through the logic-boggling byways of our language, discovering the names for phobias you didn't know you could have, the longest words in our dictionaries, and the shortest sentence containing every letter in the alphabet. You'll take a bird's-eye view of our beastly language, feast on a banquet of mushrooming food metaphors, and meet the self-reflecting Doctor Rotcod, destined to speak only in palindromes.

The Story of English: A Companion to the PBS TV Series ed by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil
( The first book to tell the whole story of the English language. Originally paired with a major PBS miniseries, this book presents a stimulating and comprehensive record of spoken and written English—from its Anglo-Saxon origins some two thousand years ago to the present day (present = 1986), when English is the dominant language of commerce and culture with more than one billion English speakers around the world. From Cockney, Scouse, and Scots to Gulla, Singlish, Franglais, and the latest (again, 1986) African American slang, this sweeping history of the English language is the essential introduction for anyone who wants to know more about our common tongue.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  PBS no longer sells the series, but you can find episodes in 10 minute segments on Youtube.  My favorite episode is The Mother Tongue.  Here are the first 10 minutes:


( Persnickety, cantankerous, opinionated, entertaining, hilarious, wise...these are a few of the adjectives reviewers used to describe good-writing maven Bill Walsh's previous book, Lapsing Into a Comma. Now, picking up where he left off in Lapsing, Walsh addresses the dozen or so biggest issues that every writer or editor must master. He also offers a trunkload of good advice on the many little things that add up to good writing. Featuring all the elements that made Lapsing such a fun read, including Walsh's trademark acerbic wit and fascinating digressions on language and its discontents, The Elephants of Style provides:

  • Tips on how to tame the "elephants of style"--the most important, frequently confused elements of good writing
  • More of Walsh's popular "Curmudgeon's Stylebook"--includes entries such as Snarky Specificity, Metaphors, Near and Far, Actually is the New Like, and other uses and misuses of language
  • Expert advice for writers and editors on how to work together for best results
( Women, Men and Language, 3rd Ed provides an up-to-date account of gender differences in language to answer the question: "Do women and men talk differently?" The book takes the reader from an initial "men talk like this; women talk like that" approach to a more nuanced idea of women and men performing gender in their everyday interactions. It covers a range of sociolinguistic research, looking at grammatical and phonological features a well as at aspects of conversation such as compliments or swearing, and the growing use of the word "like" by younger speakers. Written in a clear and accessible manner, the book explores:

  • the idea that gender is not a given but is socially constructued
  • the linguistic strategies used by male speakers to dominate female speakers
  • the characteristics of language use in same-sex groups
  • the way children develop gender-appropriate speech
  • the role played by gender in language change
  • the social consequences of gender differentiated language in the workplace and in the classroom
This updated third edition concludes with a new chapter summarizing new developments and assessing possible future trends for the area.  Using both historical record and contemporary sociolinguistic research, Women, Men and Language succinctly demonstrates that women and men do talk differently.

( For word buffs, for puzzle lovers, for anagram addicts, for crossword enthusiasts, for Scrabble players, for readers with an eye for the eccentric, and an ear for the unusual, this is the ultimate guide to the lighter side of the English language, written by a seasoned wordsmith and self-confessed verbaholic.

( Walter J. Ong’s classic work provides a fascinating insight into the social effects of oral, written, printed and electronic technologies, and their impact on philosophical, theological, scientific and literary thought.

( Playful and practical, this is the style book you can't wait to use, a guide that addresses classic questions of English usage with wit and the blackest of humor. Black-and-white illustrations throughout.

( At long last, The New Well-Tempered Sentence rescues punctuation from the perils of boredom, with wholly original explanations of the rules of punctuation, whimsical graphics, and utterly unforgettable characters (yes, characters in a grammar book). Gordon teaches you clearly and simply where to place a comma and how to use an apostrophe. Gradually, as you master the elusive slashes, dots, and dashes that give expression to our most perplexing thoughts, you will find yourself in the grip of a bizarre and bemusing comedy of manners. Witty, saucy, and utterly unforgettable, The New Well-Tempered Sentence is a must-have for anyone who has ever despaired of opening a punctuation handbook but whose sentences despair without one.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White
( A prescriptive American English writing style guide comprising eight "elementary rules of usage", ten "elementary principles of composition", "a few matters of form", a list of forty-nine "words and expressions commonly misused", and a list of fifty-seven "words often misspelled". In 2011, Time magazine listed The Elements of Style as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

( From apian (like a bee) to zodiac (little-animals circle), a word book that spots the animal origins of words and names.  There are mice in your muscles, and blackbirds in your merlot. Behind adulation is a dog's wagging tail. Peculiar houses a herd of cattle. Grubby is crawling with bugs. Wordhound Martha Barnette collects more than 300 common (and a few not-so-common) words that have surprising animal roots. Tracing word origins back to ancient Greek and Latin as well as to European roots and American slang, the entries offer a guided tour through literature, science, folklore, politics, and more--with a wilderness of animal meanings at every turn.   For fledgling word sleuths as well as those who fawn over etymologies, this is a delightful smorgasbord for writers, students, and word lovers.

101 Two Letter Words by Stephin Merritt, illustrated by Roz Chast
( Rolling Stone has called singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields “the Cole Porter of his generation”; O, The Oprah Magazine has hailed cartoonist Roz Chast as “the wryest pen since Dorothy Parker’s.” Together they have crafted a wonderfully witty book that is sure to prove useful to Scrabble players and Words With Friends addicts—and to delight anyone in thrall to the weirder corners of the English language.

With the mordant wit and clever wordplay of Edward Gorey or Shel Silverstein, Stephin Merritt has written an original four-line rhyming poem for each of the 101 two-letter words included in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Here are poems about familiar words (such as at, go, hi, no, and up) as well as obscure ones (such as aa, ka, oe, qi, xu). And every one of the 101 poems is accompanied by a full-color illustration by the incomparable cartoonist Roz Chast.  101 Two-Letter Words is perfect for any language lover or Scrabble player (it may even improve your score!). 101 color illustrations

( Too often, when struggling to find just the right turn of phrase, exclamation of joy, or witty barb, it's easy to forget that history is positively brimming with rich words deserving of rejuvenation. Lesley M. M. Blume gathers forgotten words, phrases, names, insults, and idioms, plus fascinating and funny anecdotes, etymologies, and occasions for use. Let's Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition takes readers on a philological journey through words from the not-too-distant past. From all-overish to zounds, the vintage vernacular collected here will make any reader the cat's meow among friends, relations, and acquaintances.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Noam Chomsky is an established author on the topic of linguistics

(  In this must-have for anyone who wants to better understand their love life, a mathematician pulls back the curtain and reveals the hidden patterns—from dating sites to divorce, sex to marriage—behind the rituals of love.  The roller coaster of romance is hard to quantify; defining how lovers might feel from a set of simple equations is impossible. But that doesn’t mean that mathematics isn't a crucial tool for understanding love.  Love, like most things in life, is full of patterns. And mathematics is ultimately the study of patterns—from predicting the weather to the fluctuations of the stock market, the movement of planets or the growth of cities. These patterns twist and turn and warp and evolve just as the rituals of love do.

In The Mathematics of Love, Dr. Hannah Fry takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the patterns that define our love lives, applying mathematical formulas to the most common yet complex questions pertaining to love: What’s the chance of finding love? What’s the probability that it will last? How do online dating algorithms work, exactly? Can game theory help us decide who to approach in a bar? At what point in your dating life should you settle down?

From evaluating the best strategies for online dating to defining the nebulous concept of beauty, Dr. Fry proves—with great insight, wit, and fun—that math is a surprisingly useful tool to negotiate the complicated, often baffling, sometimes infuriating, always interesting, mysteries of love. 

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Find Dr. Fry's TED talk on the mathematics of love here:

( "The great book of nature," said Galileo, "can be read only by those who know the language in which it was written. And this language is mathematics." In The Language of Mathematics, award-winning author Keith Devlin reveals the vital role mathematics plays in our eternal quest to understand who we are and the world we live in. More than just the study of numbers, mathematics provides us with the eyes to recognize and describe the hidden patterns of life—patterns that exist in the physical, biological, and social worlds without, and the realm of ideas and thoughts within.

Taking the reader on a wondrous journey through the invisible universe that surrounds us—a universe made visible by mathematics—Devlin shows us what keeps a jumbo jet in the air, explains how we can see and hear a football game on TV, allows us to predict the weather, the behavior of the stock market, and the outcome of elections. Microwave ovens, telephone cables, children's toys, pacemakers, automobiles, and computers—all operate on mathematical principles. Far from a dry and esoteric subject, mathematics is a rich and living part of our culture. An exploration of an often woefully misunderstood subject, The Language of Mathematics celebrates the simplicity, the precision, the purity, and the elegance of mathematics.

( In a world of rapid technological advancements, it can be easy to forget that writing is the original Information Technology, created to transcend the limitations of human memory and to defy time and space. The Writing Revolution picks apart the development of this communication tool to show how it has conquered the world:

  • Explores how writing has liberated the world, making possible everything from complex bureaucracy, literature, and science, to instruction manuals and love letters
  • Draws on an engaging range of examples, from the first cuneiform clay tablet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Japanese syllabaries, to the printing press and the text messaging
  • Weaves together ideas from a number of fields, including history, cultural studies and archaeology, as well as linguistics and literature, to create an interdisciplinary volume
  • Traces the origins of each of the world’s major written traditions, along with their applications, adaptations, and cultural influences
( Serendipities is a careful unraveling of the fabulous and the false, a brilliant exposition of how unanticipated truths often spring from false ideas. From Leibniz's belief that the I Ching illustrated the principles of calculus to Marco Polo's mistaking a rhinoceros for a unicorn, Umberto Eco offers a dazzling tour of intellectual history, illuminating the ways in which we project the familiar onto the strange to make sense of the world. Uncovering layers of mistakes that have shaped human history, Eco offers with wit and clarity such instances as Columbus's voyage to the New World, the fictions that grew around the Rosicrucians and KnightsTemplar, and the linguistic endeavors to recreate the language of Babel, to show how serendipities can evolve out of mistakes. With erudition, anecdotes, and scholarly rigor, this new collection of essays is sure to entertain and enlighten any reader with a passion for the curious history of languages and ideas.

How to Read a Poem: and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch
( How to Read a Poem is an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling. In language at once acute and emotional, distinguished poet and critic Edward Hirsch describes why poetry matters and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can make a difference. In a marvelous reading of verse from around the world, including work by Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Sylvia Plath, among many others, Hirsch discovers the true meaning of their words and ideas and brings their sublime message home into our hearts. A masterful work by a master poet, this brilliant summation of poetry and human nature will speak to all readers who long to place poetry in their lives.

A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch
( A major addition to the literature of poetry, Edward Hirsch’s sparkling new work is a compilation of forms, devices, groups, movements, isms, aesthetics, rhetorical terms, and folklore—a book that all readers, writers, teachers, and students of poetry will return to over and over.

Hirsch has delved deeply into the poetic traditions of the world, returning with an inclusive, international compendium. Moving gracefully from the bards of ancient Greece to the revolutionaries of Latin America, from small formal elements to large mysteries, he provides thoughtful definitions for the most important poetic vocabulary, imbuing his work with a lifetime of scholarship and the warmth of a man devoted to his art.

Knowing how a poem works is essential to unlocking its meaning. Hirsch’s entries will deepen readers’ relationships with their favorite poems and open greater levels of understanding in each new poem they encounter. Shot through with the enthusiasm, authority, and sheer delight that made How to Read a Poem so beloved, A Poet’s Glossary is a new classic.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Last year, the Perez Art Museum Miami hosted an exhibit on concrete and visual poetry

( “Sherlock Holmes could glance at a bowler hat and tell that its owner's wife had ceased to love him. In this brilliant book about metaphor James Geary is no less astonishing, as he deciphers the subtle implications embedded in advertising slogans, familiar slang and government double-talk…. You'll scarf down every page of I Is an Other and then ask for more.” —Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure

For lovers of language and fans of Blink and Freakonomics, New York Times bestselling author James Geary offers this fascinating look at metaphors and their influence in every aspect of our lives, from art to medicine, psychology to the stock market.

( The author of Reading the OED presents an eye-opening look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not.  English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impolite, or just plain wrong.

Whether you consider yourself a stickler, a nitpicker, or a rule-breaker in the know, Bad English is sure to enlighten, enrage, and perhaps even inspire. Filled with historic and contemporary examples, the book chronicles the long and entertaining history of language mistakes, and features some of our most common words and phrases, including:

Ain’t Irregardless

Lively, surprising, funny, and delightfully readable, this is a book that will settle arguments among word lovers—and it’s sure to start a few, too.

A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts by Jacqueline Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli
( To catch a glimpse of one unicorn is lucky;
to see a grace of unicorns is to witness a marvel.
In this book, you will also find . . .

a riddle of sphinx,
a splash of mermaids,
a dignity of dragons,
and more.

With inventive groupings, luminous artwork, and a fact-filled glossary, A Dignity of Dragons makes for a bestiary to treasure. For within its pages, you’ll learn about all the creatures you may be lucky enough to see, if you know where to look.

What are YOU reading?

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