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5.0 out of 5 stars `The English language develops by many mechanisms.', 14 Feb. 2011
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
`A bonzer (p. 288) discussion of the strange but dinkum (p. 289) pedigree (p. 224) of the naughty (p. 202), nice (p. 212), and, sometimes, obscene (p. 217) English language.'

Word Watching is a delightful collection of 48 short essays (plus an Introduction and an Afterword) on selected lexicographical examples. Some are curious, some are profound, some are funny and each of them is interesting. Words are, as Julian Burnside reminds us, a source both of pleasure and power, and can be deployed for good or for ill.

In `Doublespeak', Julian Burnside suggests that George Orwell would be disappointed to find that slick political language is as powerful now as in 1933: `it can hide shocking truth, it can deceive a nation, and it can hand electoral victory to the morally bankrupt.' And, of course, there are plenty of examples: who can forget `an incomplete success'?

There's a chapter on the lexicography of animals (`Beastly Words'). Amongst other things, I learned that venison was originally any animal hunted for meat, or the meat of any animal so caught.
You could, as I did, read this book from cover to cover delighting in his discussions of various topics including `Naughty Words', `Obscene Words', `Haitch' and `Terminal Prepositions'. I met some old friends amongst the `Collective Nouns' and met another one in the original meaning of `a bouquet of pheasants' - a group of pheasant as they break cover in front of the beaters.
Some of the essays explore curiosities in odd corners of the language; others illustrate how words can shift between languages. The language we speak continues to evolve: new words are coined; others change meaning while some slip out of common use. The use of `so' as an intensifier ( as in: `I am so not going to the party') takes some getting used to but, as Julian Burnside says, it works.

`When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in English.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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