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What in the Word?: Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to Your Peskiest Questions about Language (Harvest Original) Paperback – 1 Nov 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P; Reprint edition (1 Nov. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156031973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156031974
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,951,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Are you so sure about "assure," "ensure," and "insure" ? Can you determine whether a knob of butter is equivalent to a lump or a pat or a scosh? Can you say which word in the English language has the most definitions, or who put the H in Jesus H. Chr

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I you are a lover of words, a logophile, you will love this book. It may be a bit too American for some UK readers but it is great fun with lots of information on words and their usaage plus some interesting quizzes too. For me it is worth its price just to find out that "the dog's bollocks" was the printers' phrase for :- .
A great book too for trivia quiz setters. He could though have done better in naming the ladies Churchill's wit insulted.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A fun read! 22 Dec. 2005
By Armchair Interviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."

-- Mark Twain

Just when I thought I was kind of savvy about word usage, What in the Word proved me wrong on almost every page.

Did you know that "manuscript" means "written by hand"?

If I only read the quotes, Bodacious Brainteasers, Fascinating Facts and great sidebars, this book would have been worth my time. But I read more.

This is an excellent book if you are simply interested in the English language, are a teacher or a writer, or like me, also edit. Boy, the author didn't miss a thing.

Have you wondered about the difference between and correct usage of:

-- lectern and podium

-- celibate and chast

-- bi-monthly and bi-weekly

-- lay and lie (I hate this one)

-- people and person

-- may and might

He details those and ton more in the 262 pages.

Here's some clarity the author wants to share:

1. Whether or not: Or not can be used but it is redundant.

2. You can begin a sentence with and or but. Whew, good to know.

3. J.D. (stands for Jurius Doctor) is the only correct initial to refer to a lawyer. (Don't even go there!)

4. To remember to use fewer or less, he explains that fewer is something you can count whereas less is...well, my training partner Kären and I use this well-worn beer commercial to explain: "Fewer calories, less filling." You can count the fewer calories (number), and it's always plural, but the less is a degree or amount and is singular.

5. I could care less/I couldn't care less. The first version is sarcastic; the second correct.

The author answers questions about words I never knew I didn't know, but it was very interesting. Lot of it is "what's a word for....?" That includes all kinds of weird things you'll likely never use, but it was fun nonetheless.

Armchair Interviews says: What in the Word is fun to read while you learn new things and clear up some old word myths.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Finally! A wordplay book that transcends the standard trivia genre 25 Dec. 2005
By Jessica Lux - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Elster has delivered an eloquent, fun to read, and informational book about the English language. The format of the book is what makes it really stand out. The basic element is a Q&A format, broken into chapters on specific subjects. Sidebars include Fascinating Facts, Bodacious Brainteasers (quizzes), Quotes, and Sound Bites (details on pronunciation), and other information such as synonyms for drunkards, unfortunate eponyms, and cockney rhyming slang. The book has a comprehensive index and list of works cited.

This is a must-have for any language lover or grammar fiend. It's a book that can be devoured in one sitting or savored piece by piece in a fact-of-the-day format. Enjoy!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Great bathroom reading. And I mean it in a nice way! 12 Dec. 2005
By Esther Schindler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Each essay in this book discusses one minor point of vocabulary or word usage. Most of them are only about a page long. They're entertaining and educational, though you don't get the sense of the deep scholarship in etymology behind, say, Michael Quinion's "weird words" or "turns of phrase."

If I was REALLY serious about the usage of the word "skosh" I'm sure I'd look elsewhere, but this book serves my word-a-day entertainment need. It also gives me a few fun facts, such as a three-page list of unfortunate eponyms (such as "martinet," which is the legacy of General Jean Martinet -- whose harsh discipline led him to be "accidentally" killed by his troops during a battle).

Fun book. You'll like it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I'm so glad I purchased this book! 16 Mar. 2010
By J. Arena - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I so enjoyed reading What in the Word, but I got even more pleasure out of my friends' enjoyment of it.

I left the book out on the coffee table when I had people over to watch a movie. Happily, the book became the topic of great conversation, and the TV was forgotten for one splendid night.

Now, that's word power!
Reading for fun. 10 Mar. 2007
By Reading Rabbit - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book just because I love words. It is the first book I have purchased of this type and am enjoying it so far. I particularly like the fact that the author lists the sources of his facts so that I have many choices of further reading should I choose to continue my quest of word and phrase origins. This book seems purely for entertainment so take it for such.
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