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"A humdinger in spades ... combining fun and solid scholarship in a rare mix." -- Evan Morris, Word Detective
"Far excels most [books] that have been done on colorful words for the general reader." -- Jonathan Lighter, editor, The Random House Historical Dictionary fo American Slang
"A good read, well researched, and full of interesting sidelights on the country and its language." -- Michael Quinion, World Wide Words
This highly selective etymological dictionary of more than 300 of "the best and the brightest" American words was compiled by two longtime students of American English--Barnhart, a lexicographer, and Metcalf, a college professor of English. Arrangement is chronological. The words chosen--a representative one for selected years from 1555 (canoe) to 1748 (buck), and one for each year from 1750 to 1998--are discussed in historical context, sometimes updated with contemporary quotations and with additional words similar to or connected to the key word or phrase. For example, the entry sexism and ageism (1969) mentions other -isms, and Watergate (1972) mentions other -gate terms. Black-and-white illustrations accompany some entries. The introduction has a note on sources, which include titles such as The Dictionary of American Regional English, The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, and the periodical Barnhart Dictionary Companion, as well as standard English-language dictionaries.
The entries are organized into six chapters, from "The English in America: 1497^-1750" to "Nearing the Millennium: 1945^-1998." Words are assigned to the year in which they were "newly coined or newly prominent." Entries range in length from half a page to just over a whole page. Some examples of entries from the first chapter are turkey (1607), New England (1616), public school (1636), and ice cream (1744). The concluding chapter features rock and roll (1951), fast food (1954), soccer mom (1996), Ebonics (1997), and millennium bug (1998). An index by word brings together all keywords and words discussed in the text, and an index by date lists each year from 1555 and its keyword.
Most of the words and phrases found here also appear in other dictionaries of American English, but this book puts a new spin on their definitions. It should appeal to both browsers and reference personnel in high-school, public, and academic libraries. It supplements more scholarly works, such as those listed in the source notes in the introduction. Copyright© 1998, American Library Association. All rights reserved
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