Continuing the description of books on words and language listed in the introductory post, which you’ll find here.
Book 26: The Dictionary of Diseased English:
Paperback, 267 pages. First published in 1977. Published in Papermac 1980 by The Macmillan Press Ltd. I bought it used at £3.30 sometime in the 1980s. A used version is available at £2.59. The latest edition is the 2nd edition, published 1983, by Macmillan Press Ltd and available in paperback for £14.95.
I can perhaps best summarise the book’s intention by quoting a couple of sentences from the Foreword by Richard Hoggart:
‘There seems little doubt that the virtues of decent, clear exposition in speech or writing are less sought at all levels of education today than they were a few decades ago. In such a climate jargon and it’s more publicly self-conscious relative, gobbledegook, can flourish almost unchecked and almost everywhere.’ A sentiment with which I find myself mostly in agreement.
It provides examples from contemporary journals, as evidence of the changes in ‘meaning’ for the listed words.
Opened randomly at pages 102/103, we start with:
Gracious – a half page of text follows this, providing a view of the then current meanings ascribed to the word. This is the format throughout the listed articles, which are presented in alphabetical order.
The pages go on to include, Graciousness, Grainy, Grandeur, Grass-root, and Great. The latter entry goes on for almost an entire page and includes some criticism of the way the American language has ‘…nearly, but not quite, worked this poor word to death…’ My suspicion is that, with the hyperbolic presentation favoured by the delusional Donald Trump (I can’t bring myself to honour him with his undeserved title) the sentence would now be modified to replace ‘…nearly, but not quite…’ with ‘…utterly and unforgivably…’.
For the sake of brevity, in demonstrating the nature of the content, I’ll quote here the shortest of the above listed words.
‘Grainy In correct usage means granular, like the surface grain of wood. To suggest that a singer’s voice has this quality does not, to the uninitiated, seem very flattering, but the word is used by music critics and must presumably mean something to them. “Robert Lloyd’s firm, slightly grainy bass” (Classical Music, 20.10.76) has, one supposes, something crinkled about it, and it is worth spending a little time, but not too much, wondering what that might sound like, and whether it would be in any way painful, either to the singer or to the members of his audience.’
The tone of the book used is deeply old-fashioned, even to my ancient ears, so I hope the revised edition is a little less verbose!
English is a complex language, made up of words from many countries, and borrows rules of grammar, punctuation and even style from the originating lands, which can make it interestingly familiar to learners but also frequently frustratingly baffling to the same students.
And, for those with an interest in English and considering their future, here’s a link that suggests the many possible career opportunities open to those with a degree in English. It’s also a link to an online university, and therefore an advert for their services. I know nothing of the institution, but the list of possible career choices might be useful.
Earlier posts in the series can be found by clicking on the titles below.
2. A Dictionary of Misunderstood Misused Mispronounced Words.
3. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
4. A Miscellany for Word Lovers.
5. AMERICAN ENGLISH ENGLISH AMERICAN.
6. A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang.
7. Brit-think, American-think.
8. Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors.
9. Collins English Dictionary.
10. Current English Usage.
11. Descriptionary; a Thematic Dictionary.
12. Divided by a Common Language.
13. Eats Shoots & Leaves.
14. English Prepositional Idioms.
15. Fowler’s Modern English Usage.
16. Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers.
17. Hartrampf’s Vocabulary Builder.
18. i before e (except after c).
19. Longman Companion to English Literature.
20. New Hart’s Rules.
21. New Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms.
22. Oxford Compact Thesaurus.
23. Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English.
24. Roget’s Thesaurus.
25. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
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