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978-0-226-12201-4 / 9780226122014

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About the book:

"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

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