Book week: Word Drops; But can I start...

A nice thing about having a popular blog is that people send you free stuff. In my case, stuff means 'books'. Some have been sent with no warning (and gratefully received), some come with a query "would you like to receive this and maybe write about it?" and I say "yes, I'd be happy to receive it". (Notice the careful lack of promises on my part.)  I now have a stack of such books that I've been intending to say something about here--some of which I've not had time to read yet, some of which I may never read cover-to-cover.

I had been thinking: I'll just do a really big book post about all of them and get that off my plate. But that's a big job, and so it got put off. My new solution is: I'm going to write about one or two books each day for a week. And I'm not going to say too much about them, because I have a book to write myself. If you know these books, please do add your thoughts on them in the comments!

Where possible, I'll link to US and UK places to buy them (see the captions under the cover photos). Click through and you might figure out that I have opinions about where (not) to buy books. If you are lucky enough to live near an actual independent (more BrE) bookshop/(AmE) bookstore, the bestest thing to do is to order your books there, so that there will continue to be an actual independent bookshop near you.

On with the show! Let's start with the two that are closest (more BrE) to/(more AmE) at hand (because I am preternaturally* lazy).

Free book 1: Word Drops

Paul Anthony Jones tweets (and Facebooks and blogs) as @HaggardHawks ("so-called, I should point out, as haggard was originally a falconer's term describing a wild hawk", p. viii--I'm not sure that explanation explained it completely for me). And if you follow him, you'll know he loves odd facts about words--and odd words. His book, Word drops: a sprinkling of linguistic curiosities, consists of some of his collection. 
UK edition (hard cover): Buy here
The much prettier US edition (trade paper): Buy here

This is a perfect book to leave around the house in a place where you might have a few minutes now and then. Some might suggest a certain small room, but we're all too genteel for that, I'm sure. Put it in the kitchen to read while waiting for the kettle to boil. Or by the phone for reading while you're on hold.

What I really like about it (besides all the fun facts) is the stream-of-consciousness organi{s/z}ation, illustrated in this poorly photographed random page where the definition of ombralgia leads to the etymology of nostalgia, which leads to a word for intense longing for something missing from Portuguese, which leads to the Portuguese etymology of dodo, which leads to a Hawaiian bird, which leads to a fact about Hawaiian phonetics.

Pub quiz masters need this book. And people who want to learn things while waiting for the next available customer service representative. It's a lot of fun--and so are his social media outlets.

Free book 2: But can I start a sentence with "but"?

Hardcover; Order from US
This one was sent to me in thanks for doing an interview for the Chicago Manual of Style's Q&A online newsletter. The subtitle sums it up: "advice from the Chicago Style Q&A".  For those who don't know, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) is one of the most important style guides in American publishing. It's where I turned when writing my PhD (AmE) dissertation/(BrE) thesis and needed to know whether to alphabeti{s/z}e Ferdinand de Saussure under D or S. (The answer is D, but van names don't go under V. It's a cruel and complicated world.)

The book is a set of questions and answers from editors and authors to the Chicago Manual staff, organi{s/z}ed vaguely by theme. Since the questions relate to whatever some person needed on some particular editing job (e.g. "How does one cite a food label?"), it is not going to serve as anyone's go-to style guide itself. But it may be a nice book for the small room of an editor in your life. Make that an American editor in your life--since, for instance, the punctuation recommendations are particularly American.

The answers are written with good sense and good humo(u)r and references to the appropriate section of CMoS. For instance, I've learned that it's only acceptable to combine the punctuation marks ?! in formal writing "only in the event that the author was being physically assaulted while writing" (p. 106).

Well, that first instal(l)ment took longer than expected. Tomorrow, probably one book.

* Checked this word before using it, and I loved the quotation by Douglas Allchin at the preternatural Wikipedia page: "suspended between the mundane and the miraculous". Yes, that's exactly where my laziness is.


  1. Only when physically assaulted when writing?! That's just wrong!

    (And there I've used up two of my lifetime quota of eight exclamation points. Do you see what you've done to me?!)

    And the humorless response is that it's clear that the CMoS (not to be confused with CMOS, btw) does not apply to chess writing.

  2. David Crystal makes a good case in Making a Point.

    One of the main indications of the ambiguity surrounding the use of the exclamation mark is its overlap with the question mark. It's an ambiguity within grammar as well as punctuation, and in speech as well as writing, reflected in such sentences as 'Are you asking or telling me? Sometimes the answer is 'both'; a person can query and be surprised at the same time.

    Apparently copy editors have used both ?! and !?, leading one Martin K Specker to invent the interrobang

    I looked this up in my Mac character viewer and discovered that loads of fonts include the character. So it should should show up in this posting. If not, imagine of the top parts of a question mark and an exclamation mark sharing the same lower dot.

    It's UNICODE 203D and has a relation which David Crystal doesn't consider: the inverted interrobang
    UNICODE 2E18

    Far fewer fonts include this character, so it may not show up. In that case, just imagine an interrobang turned upside down.

    I presume this was invented for Spanish language users. Unless it has some esoteric value known only to internet geeks.

  3. Praeternaturally, surely, Lynn?!

    For more about that longing we have no name for (and how to express it in song) see here.

  4. Lynne, surely, Zouk?!?!?!?!?!

    When even Oxford drops the 'a', I don't bother with it, but
    here's my old post about æ.

  5. Oops! Sorry, Lynne. I plead super-praeternatural laziness (too lazy even to look up preternatural).

    Thanks for the link and may I also wish you a belated blogiversary (I reckon I can still spell that one however I wish).

  6. In this inter-connected world, UK editors need CMoS as well, for when we are editing US English.

  7. David

    The interrobang, right and inverted, was discussed in the recent BBC Radio4 Word of Mouth episode, Punctuation. (Content may be unavailable or behind paywall outside the UK).

  8. Zouk

    Yes, thanks. I knew I'd recently heard an explanation of the name interrobang , but I couldn't remember where.

    Sure enough Keith Houston discusses it twice — the second time in the context of marking irony. However neither time does he deal with the inverted interrobang. What he does discuss is an inverted exclamation mark.

    I resorted to googling, and discovered that my guess was right: the symbol was invented and Unicoded to allow Spanish-language bloggers to introduce ironic/surprised questions.

    The Wikipedia section of the Interrobang entry illustrates the simplicity an inverted symbol adds to a querying exclamation/exclamative question.

    ⸘Verdad‽ (Really‽)

    may replace earlier efforts:


  9. The interrobang was also discussed on QI, in some episode or other.

    I first learned about it when I was about ten years old, in an article in Children's Digest. I loved the idea and kept waiting for interrobangs to hit the mainstream.

  10. I'm curious to see "alphabeti{s/z}e" carefully marked up in its variant forms. I have never knowingly come across alphabetise in BrE - I would use 'put in alphabetic order' or 'sort alphabetically'. And it turns out that I am both right and wrong: according to Ngram,there is BrE usage of the verb, though AmE usage is more than four times greater. But in both the BrE and AmE corpuses, 'alphabetize' is strongly dominant, and 'alphabetise' is vanishingly rare - barely over 10% of occurrences even in the BrE corpus.

    So the spelling is a very weak marker of difference in this instance - which doesn't stop 'alphabetize' sounding infelicitous to my ear, whether or not there is any rational justification for it.

  11. Lynne: your reference to "a certain small room" reminds me of a famous response once written to a negative review:

    I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!

    According to Wikipedia, it turns out this response was originally written in German by a composer and music educator named Max Reger (1873-1916).

    Memorable, no?


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)