Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities

by Chris Cole | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 0806917970 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingfuturecatwing of Christchurch, Canterbury New Zealand on 2/22/2007
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Journal Entry 1 by wingfuturecatwing from Christchurch, Canterbury New Zealand on Thursday, February 22, 2007
Bought from Arty-Bees in Wellington using the generous voucher and discount they gave convention attendees.

When I picked this book up in the shop and flicked through it, I was immediately hooked - it's a weird sort of dictionary of all those completely useless yet somehow fascinating facts of language like what's the longest word you can write using just one row of the typewriter, or which word is most often misspelled, or what's the shortest word that contains every vowel.

Unfortunately, once I'd bought it and started reading it properly, I got a bit frustrated by aspects of it, like the fact that the author's distinction between common and uncommon words seems a bit strange at times ("breadcrumb" and "mammogram" are listed as uncommon, yet "polymerization" is listed as common!), his descriptions of how the word-plays works isn't always clear, and some of his examples seem to be on the verge of cheating, like listing alternate spellings of a words as being homophones (yes, strictly they are, but homophones are much more satisfying if they actually mean different things!), or using a large number of foreign words (especially Hawaiian!) whose status as loan-words in English is debatable.

Plus of course it's written from an American point of view, so a lot of the wordplay involving pronunciation (especially the gramograms) doesn't work for the rest of us (not that there's anything wrong with using American pronunciation, it's just that I would have liked him to acknowledge the problem. Eg. mention that herb the plant and Herb the name aren't actually pronounced differently for many English speakers).

But despite all those reservations, an interesting reference work that might come in handy one day. Especially next time I play hang-man and need to know the most difficult word to guess! :-)

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