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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Two word books for study and fun

By Lisa McLendon
The Wichita Eagle

What reader doesn’t love a good word book? Two new ones will enlighten as well as entertain.

“Grammar Girl’s 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time” by Mignon Fogarty (St. Martin’s Griffin, 134 pages, $5.99 paper)

“It is I” or “It is me”? Does trying to figure that out aggravate you — or should that be “irritate” you? Do you just want to know what’s OK — or is that “okay” — to write?

If words and phrases like this give you trouble, Grammar Girl is here to help with her latest “101 Words” offering (joining “ 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again,” “ 101 Words to Sound Smart,” and “101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know”). This fun and informative guide identifies tricky words and phrases, tells why they’re tricky, and explains what a writer should do. The trouble spots include usage, grammar, style points, spelling and shifting meanings.

The guide strikes a refreshing balance between thou-shalt-not edicts and everyone-says-it permissiveness, while blasting away a few language myths in the process (for example, “over” is fine in the sense of “more than”). And with each entry, the author includes examples from news sources, historical figures, literary luminaries or popular culture.

So use “gone missing” if you like — there’s nothing ungrammatical about it. Avoid “biweekly” since no one knows whether you mean “twice a week” or “every two weeks,” treat “team” as a singular as long as you’re in the United States, and remember that “noisome” describes a smell, not a sound..

“Tyrannosaurus Lex: The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams & Other Delightful & Outrageous Wordplay” by Rod L. Evans (Perigee, 255 pages, $14 paper)

Acronyms and bacronyms, grammagrams and pleonasms, eggcorns and mondegreens and dozens more categories of words get their day in this enjoyable little word book. Anyone who loves words will have a ball flipping through this book — and may find it hard to stop.

Each category is illustrated with copious examples: there are 31/2 pages dedicated to all the spellings of the name of the person known in Associated Press style as Moammar Gadhafi, and more than eight pages of semordnilaps (words that when spelled backward spell another word, like “stop” spells “pots”).

There’s history — “girl” used to mean a child of either gender and “knight” used to mean boy — and there are brand-new words, like “mouse potato,” many of which are also portmanteau words, like “cheapuccino.” There are “contronyms”: words with two meanings that are opposites, like “sanction” and “temper.”

All these lists remind us of the richness and variety of English, and how much fun it is to play with its huge store of words.

Lisa McLendon is the Books page editor. Reach her at 316-268-6529 or lmclendon@wichitaeagle.com.

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