Troublesome Words

A-Z of problematic English words – with explanations Before he became a best-selling travel writer, Bill Bryson worked as a sub-editor on The Times. This is a successful guide to problems of English language he wrote for journalists at the time, now updated and in its third edition. It’s arranged on an A to Z […]

The Usual Suspects and Other Cliches

all the low down and the full monty on street-cred lingo At first you might wonder why anybody would want to look into the origins of a cliche. But the more I read the examples in The Usual Suspects, the more they emphasise the tired, stale nature of expressions we often take for granted – […]

The Real McCoy

the true stories behind our everyday phrases and sayings English is incredibly rich language, full of colorful and unusual phrases and sayings. This is one of those books which offers explanations for commonly used expressions. For instance, why do we say ‘know your onions’, ‘straight as a die’, and ‘the apple of your eye’? The […]

The Myth of Mars and Venus

Do men and women really speak different languages? A notion has sprung up in the last decade or so that men and women use language differently – even that they are psychologically and genetically hard-wired for language in different ways. This notion has solidified around the expression ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’, […]

The Handbook of Good English

guide to grammar, punctuation, usage, and style Some writing guides are not much more than a list of grammatical rules, with illustrative examples and tips on what to avoid. Even though it uses grammatical elements as its structure, The Handbook of Good English is almost the opposite of that. Edward Johnson is an editor with […]

Secret Language

Codes, Tricks, Spies, Thieves, and Symbols Language is itself a code. In its written form it’s an abstract set of signs to represent speech, and in its spoken form an extremely complex set of rules for making intelligent communication using sounds. But if that isn’t complex enough, human beings seem to have a natural tendency […]

Quite Literally

problem words and how to use them properly Do you know the difference between blatant and flagrant? Do you know the plural of cul-de-sac? This is one of those books which is supposed to be a source of reference, but which for any language enthusiast is so entertaining, you can’t put it down. In this […]

Port Out, Starboard Home

folk etymologies and false word histories explained This is a book of folk-etymologies, false-etymologies, pseudo-etymologies – call them what you will. As Michael Quinion explains, once a colourful explanation for the origin of a term is offered, it’s hard to shift, no matter how flawed it might be. His book title Port Out, Starboard Home […]

Pardon My French

Unleash your inner Gaul Don’t be misled by the title. This book isn’t about swearing or euphemism. It comes from the long tradition of the English writing about French language and culture as if it were that of another planet – but with a certain amount of self-deprecation and lots of affection. Charles Timoney went […]

Oxford Guide to World English

modern English language in use throughout the world English is now effectively a global lingua franca. But even as it enlarges its influence, it is assimilated and changed by the nations where it comes to rest. Tom McArthur’s new Oxford Guide to World Englishis a survey of English both as a pre-eminent world language and […]