I am fascinated by language. Whether diagramming sentences, reciting the appropriate participle in my Catholic school days, or delving into the case systems of Latin and Russian, I've always been uncommonly excited by the rules and regulations of the written word. I appreciate that I'm one of a select few for whom the mere mention of morphemes causes the pulse to race, but the beauty of language has a wide, loyal following--with the books to prove it. The titles below are just a few of many worthy overtures to language. To anyone who has balked at "their" in place of "there" or wondered about the origins of their mother tongue, these books are for you.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Anyone who's ever been irked by improper use of a semicolon or a misplaced comma will find a kindred spirit in Lynne Truss, a British journalist and novelist whose bestselling book covers all manner of mistakes in the English language. Her tone, ranging from casual to tyrannical, will have you in stitches--and will encourage you to proofread a little more carefully.
The Five-Minute Linguist by E. M. Rickerson and Barry Hilton
Based on an NPR series of five-minute segments on language, this book is a collection of bite-sized chapters. Light and conversational, it is a highly entertaining read that serves as a great introduction for anyone even remotely curious about language.
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Mary Norris, a longtime copyeditor at the New Yorker, waxes romantic about proper punctuation and grammar in this humorous memoir. You don't have to appreciate declensions and the subjunctive to get caught up in her charming prose. The Washington Post calls it "porn for word nerds." If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.
The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker dissects profanity, metaphors, social cues, and more, and in the process he teaches you not just about mechanics and semantic subtleties. But also, this book is about humanity and why language is so important in shaping who we are and how we're perceived in the world.
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter
If you've ever wondered about the evolution of the English language, John McWhorter's entertaining "pop linguistics" book is for you. A linguistics professor at UC Berkeley and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, McWhorter explores curious questions and makes compelling arguments but most of all he takes readers on a fun romp through history.
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman is the kind of reader serious bibliophiles aspire to become. In Ex Libris, a collection of essays that are love letters to the art of reading and the beauty of language, she expounds on the delights of proofreading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud.
Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler
Chairman of the Foundation of Endangered Languages, Nicholas Ostler explores how languages live and die, with incredible stories and cautionary tales along the way. With an eye on ancient Rome, Egypt, China, and more, this entertaining read is fit for history and language buffs alike.
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