Like many of you, I’m sure, I love books about language and it’s oddities, curiosities and weird little habits. I thought I’d share a few examples from my collection here with you, and while I can’t say I’ve read them all cover to cover, I do enjoy dipping into them from time to time.
Firstly and most famously, is the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. A famous author, journalist and critic, Bierce wrote the dictionary as a comedic satire which holds up to this day. See his definition of education below as an example. (Affiliate link)
Slang is always an interesting area, and I received this book from a friend years ago, before I had anything to do with language teaching. The descriptions of street slang and their derivations is fascinating. (Affiliate link)
I have a particular fondness for fifties beatnik slang, and this volume by Max Decharne, a musician who was a member of the terrific combo Gallon Drunk, really is the cat’s pyjamas. (Affiliate link)
This next book may be my favourite here because, frankly, it’s utterly bizarre. It’s another one I bought many years before becoming a teacher when on a holiday to Italy. It’s a kind of phrase book of slang, but as far as I can see, not any actual slang that ever really existed but rather it seemed to have been invented by the unknown author while having a fever dream. Just read the example dialogue below and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m a bit suspicious of anything related to language and superiority, but luckily it’s being used ironically in this book which is lovely collection of interesting words most of which you are unlikely to ever use. I do say ‘ilk’ though. (Affiliate link)
This style guide from the Guardian, published in 2007, is perhaps the driest book here, but nonetheless it provides some interesting insights into how seemingly simple words and terms can be written in different ways and the choices that need to be made. (Affiliate link)
English may be a huge language, but there are certain concepts that cannot easily be translated into the language. Moore’s book is an entertaining overview of some of these words, although I’m not sure I’ll ever get to use álfreka in every day conversation. (Affiliate link)
And let’s finish with an actual language learning book. I think I picked this up when I lived in Brussels, and it demonstrates the utterly ridiculous language that was seen as a worthwhile objective in the past. Or maybe people actually spoke like that then? Mrs Longface is the very embodiment of English stiff upper lip pragmatism!
I hope you enjoyed this little sojourn on my bookshelves, and I’d love to know what your favourite language related books are. Share them in the comment section below.
2 thoughts on “Books For Language Lovers”
Thanks James I really liked your post! I would love to read “The Untranslatables”, that looks like a book I would really enjoy.
As for my favorite language related book, I really like “The Word Circus” by Richard Lederer. This is also a great language book about English.
I’ll check it out, thanks!