Words On Words: Quotations About Language And Languages

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9780140514186: Words On Words: Quotations About Language And Languages

From Homer ("winged words") to Robert Burns ("Beware a tongue that's smoothly hung") to Rudyard Kipling ("Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind"), writers from all over the world have put pen to paper on the inexhaustible topic of language. Yet surprisingly, their writings on the subject have never been gathered in a single volume. In Words on Words, David and Hilary Crystal have collected nearly 5,000 quotations about language and all its intriguing aspects: speaking, reading, writing, translation, verbosity, usage, slang, and more. As the stock-in-trade of so many professions—orators, media personalities, writers, and countless others—language's appeal as a subject is extraordinarily relevant and wide-ranging.

The quotations are grouped thematically under 65 different headings, from "The Nature of Language" through the "Language of Politics" to "Quoting and Misquoting." This arrangement enables the reader to explore a topic through a variety of lenses, ancient and modern, domestic and foreign, scientific and casual, ironic and playful. Three thorough indexes—to authors, sources, and key words—provide different entry points into the collection. A valuable resource for professional writers and scholars, Words on Words is for anyone who loves language and all things linguistic.

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Review:

"I hate quotations," said Emerson in his Journals. "Tell me what you know." Poor Emerson. He didn't realize how very much could be known by browsing a book of quotations. Words on Words provides a sort of crash course in the history of thought about language and languages. Sure, what you get here are just snippets--nearly 5,000 of them--but those snippets will send you back to countless original sources. The result is a sort of Bartlett's for word lovers, language enthusiasts, and linguists. (As in Bartlett's, a generous portion of the text--nearly half--is devoted to indexes.)

Editors David Crystal and Hilary Crystal culled (and frequently corrected) quotations from elsewhere; they also read widely, gathering quotations from original sources. They were often surprised, they say in the book's introduction, by which texts rendered the most quotations: the works of Laurence Sterne, for example, were "unexpectedly fruitful"; Pepys's Diary, on the other hand, "yielded next to nothing." In their reading, the editors sought, among other qualities, "succinctness and autonomy of expression." They found this with abundance in the works of Oscar Wilde, as well as in those of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Montaigne, Emerson, Samuel Johnson, Dickens, and Ambrose Bierce (his unequaled Devil's Dictionary is widely quoted). The quotations have been sorted into 65 categories, focusing on such topics as language origins, usage, multilingualism, verbosity, slang, and the language of politics. One might think, given David Crystal's renown as a linguist, that professional linguists might have made a strong showing here. No go. "On the whole," the Crystals say, "linguists are remarkably unquoteworthy." --Jane Steinberg

About the Author:

David Crystal writes and lectures on language and linguistics. His recent books include The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and The Penguin Dictionary of Language. He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and a past president of the Society of Indexers.

Hilary Crystal practiced for several years as a speech therapist and has worked editorially on various projects, including The Cambridge Encyclopedia.

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