For a few years I’ve been posting about word choice here. It seems timely to let you know the sources for the information and ideas I’ve presented. Before I started writing seriously, which preceded mobile phones, personal computers, and even electronic typewriters, I developed an interest in words: a fascination for the huge variety of words available and the way in which the English Language has stolen from other languages to form a vocabulary capable of great subtlety. I then began to buy books that took word usage and choice as their topics.
Below, is a list of books I now own on the subject; a small personal library. 36 titles are listed here. They range in size from the petite softback ‘American English English American’, at 47 pages, to the weighty, hardback, two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary with its 3,743 pages. In price, the cheapest was the free Reader’s Digest ‘As Others See Us’ with its pithy comments on how other lands view the British, many dealing with the meanings of certain words and expressions. The most expensive single volume was ‘A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English’, for which I paid, way back in the 1980s, £47.50. The ‘Shorter Oxford English Dictionary’, currently available for around £68.00, I was fortunate enough to snatch away from the reaching hands of another wordsmith, in a sale at W.H.Smiths, for the bargain price of £30.00. His look of regret almost allowed my altruism to capitulate to his want, but the words bullied me into hanging onto the bargain.
These books are far more valuable than mere price could ever indicate, of course. When editing my work, I seek the best possible word to convey as accurately as I can the feeling, location, appearance, motivation, mood, or whatever aspect of the story I’m describing. These books are priceless during such work.
Other volumes give guidance on aspects of English grammar, syntax, and structure that are sometimes misunderstood or unknown to many of us. I was fortunate enough to be schooled at a time when teachers in the UK taught about different parts of speech, the structure of a sentence, the nature of a paragraph. Of course, this undoubtedly stultified the creative output of some students, so overwhelmed by rules they were too inhibited to give free reign to self-expression. Again, I was lucky in that my English teacher, an attractive young Irish woman with a penchant for low-cut blouses that inevitably drew complete attention from teenage boys, was able to balance ‘correct usage’ with ‘effective usage’.
In this series of posts, I intend to describe, and briefly review, the books listed below, one at a time, so other writers can decide whether they want them on their own reference shelves. That will start with next week’s post and I hope will prove useful to all readers here.
A Dictionary of Misunderstood Misused Mispronounced Words
A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
A Miscellany for Word Lovers
A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang (amended in the list, as I’d included an irrelevant book here!)
Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors
Collins English Dictionary
Current English Usage
Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary
Divided by a Common Language
Eats, Shoots and Leaves
English Language – removed as totally out of date now!
English Prepositional Idioms
Fowler’s Modern English Usage
Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers
Hartrampf’s Vocabulary Builder
I Before E (except after c)
Longman Companion to English Literature
Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms
Oxford Compact Thesaurus
Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2 Volumes)
The Dictionary of Diseased English
The Elements of Style
The Emotion Thesaurus
The Grouchy Grammarian
The Last Word
The Little Red Writing Book
The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors
The Oxford Manual of Style
The Oxford Spelling Dictionary
The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary
The Synonym Finder
Usage and Abusage
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