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Overview

"William Safire, America's favorite writer on language, offers a new collection of pieces drawn from his nationally syndicated "On Language" column. Laced with liberal (a loaded word, but apt) doses of Safire's wit, these pieces search culture (high and low), politics, entertainment, and the word on the street to explore what the old but livelier-than-ever English language has been up to lately." "With a keen wit and a sure grasp of usage, Safire dissects trends and traces the origins of colloquialisms that have become second nature to most
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Overview

"William Safire, America's favorite writer on language, offers a new collection of pieces drawn from his nationally syndicated "On Language" column. Laced with liberal (a loaded word, but apt) doses of Safire's wit, these pieces search culture (high and low), politics, entertainment, and the word on the street to explore what the old but livelier-than-ever English language has been up to lately." "With a keen wit and a sure grasp of usage, Safire dissects trends and traces the origins of colloquialisms that have become second nature to most Americans. He examines everything from whether one delivers "a punch on or in the nose" when offended to whether a disgraced politician should "step down," "step aside," or "stand down." Safire gives us the answers to these and many more quandaries, questions, and complexities of our contemporary lexicon." As always, Safire is aided by the Gotcha! Gang and the Nitpickers League-readers who claim to have found the language maven making flubs of his own. His comments and observations create a spirited, curious, and scholarly discussion showing that William Safire and his readership are wise in the way of words.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This 12th collection from Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist Safire's "On Language" column (in the New York Times Magazine since 1979) proves that there is no wittier, more gracious stickler for correct usage and grammar. Though "idioms is idioms" (he allows for homey advice like "dance with the girl you brung"), Safire won't let anyone get away with "flaunt" when they mean "flout," "momentarily" when they mean "soon," or "drive-by pregnancy" (as was used by President Clinton) when referring to the overly short hospital stays called "drive-by deliveries." When "New" is dropped from New Jersey, Safire reports on the "widespread clipping of the Garden State." Reading Safire, the reader discovers unsuspected but definitively mangled parts of speech. The author sometimes spins hypothetical misuses for the well-turned phrase or choice vocabulary word: regarding words only used in the plural, "a single pastie would be in the category of one hand clapping." Looking beyond syntax, Safire notes the transformation of "down the toilet" into "down the drain" and widespread lexical insensitivity in allowing Native Americans to be slurred by "Indian summer" and the chronologically advanced by "geezer." Meanwhile, the same feminists who insist on "actor" (not "actress") would never call Madonna a "sex god," alleges Safire. This word maven often quotes readers who catch his own bloopers and those of other writers, pointing out gems like, "I could never watch The Wizard of Oz in toto." The linguistic wisdom of this celebrated publishing fixture will continue to attract Jane Doe, Joe Blow, John Q. Public and Joe Six-pack (variants discussed herein). 60 b & w illus. not seen by PW. (On sale Nov. 13)Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Since 1979, Safire has written a weekly New York Times Magazine column, "On Language," and gathered so large and loyal a readership that this, his 12th collection of columns, will have built-in demand. The columns examine and comment on language trends both oral and written, many tracing the origins of timely words and phrases. As a political columnist (his "Essays" appear on the op-ed page of the Times and are syndicated in 300 publications), he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his observations on the financial dealings of Burt Lance, former president Carter's budget director. Safire finds the subjects for his columns from his close reading of the current political scene as well as from technology, entertainment, and everyday life. He delights in catching those (especially politicians) who misuse words, but he doesn't let himself off the hook. Each column is followed by extracts from readers' letters, including some "gotchas" aimed at him. Some of these letters are from newsmakers and world-renowned language specialists. Though he's more insightful commenting on political language than popular language and culture, Safire never fails to prick the interest of word lovers. Recommended for public libraries. Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609609477
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/20/2001
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

William Safire, Pulitzer Prize–winning political columnist for The New York Times, began writing his “On Language” column in 1979. He is the most widely read commentator on the state of the English language today. He lives near Washington, D.C.
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Read an Excerpt

Adultery and Fraternization

Every scandal has its own lexicon. There stood Kelly Flinn, Air Force first lieutenant, pioneer female B-52 pilot, accused of adultery and its coverup.

"How can they accuse her of adultery?" asked a colleague. "She's single. The married guy was the adulterer."

Yes and no. The noun adultery, which appeared in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, comes from the Latin verb adulterare, "to corrupt," from which we also get adulterate. (It's not the root of adult; that's from adultus, past participle of adolescere, "to grow up.")

The word is poetically defined by the O.E.D. as "violation of the marriage bed." Other dictionaries use variations of "voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone not his or her spouse." In general speech, adultery is "an extramarital affair" or, more informally, "playin' around"; in politics, the candidate so playing is said to have "a zipper problem."

"Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adulterie," reads a 1590 translation of Matthew 5:28. But the act lost its male identity and was dramatized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter; the "A" for adultery was "embroidered and illuminated" on Hester Prynne's bosom as a punishment.

Under most religious law, the married participant is an adulterer and the single one merely a fornicator. Under the old common-law rule, however, "both participants commit adultery if the married participant is a woman," Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary,tells me. "But if the woman is the unmarried one, both participants are fornicators, not adulterers." Seems unfair; why? "This rule is premised on whether there is a possibility of adulterating the blood within a family. Offspring from adulterous unions were called adulterism."

What do courts say today? "Under modern statutory law," Garner says, "some courts hold that the unmarried participant is not guilty of adultery (that only the married participant is), but others hold that both participants are adulterers." The Armed Services Manual for Courts-Martial, Article 134, "Adultery," says that the act has occurred when sexual intercourse has taken place and "the accused person or the other person was married to someone else."

Both participants in an adulterous relationship have come to be understood as engaging in adultery, no matter which one is married. When adulterer or the less common adulteress is used, however, it usually identifies a married participant. Nobody calls the kids adulterini anymore.

Copyright 2001 by William Safire
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002

    A GOOD READ

    This is a very interesting and informative book on where and how phrases originate. Clever and witty. I highly recommend this book!

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