a column by ColleenO’Brien
In sorting through books in my house, hoping to give some away, I ran across an old favorite, More Joy of Lex, and started reading through it. Alas, another book I can’t part with, even though I haven’t looked at it for at least 20 years.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth, author/compiler, wrote The Joy of Lex in the 1980s which was apparently not enough for him or his admirers, so he added Moreâ€¦. Both books are about words, but you don’t have to be a lexicographer or a verbivore to read it straight through. It is informative and hilarious, erudite and hilarious, all-encompassing and hilarious.
For example: One of the great malapropers of all time, Samuel Godlwyn, is included in this book. The famous movie producer’s English usage was unique: “Yes, my wife’s hands are very beautiful. I’m going to have a bust made of them.” “It’s more than magnificent; it’s mediocre!” “Anybody who goes to see a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.”
Brandreth includes word games for the traveling-by-car family: “You start, son; give me the name of a town or city in Iowa.” ” Jefferson!” “Okay. Daughter, give us one that starts with the last letter of that town.” “Newell!” It’s a very fun game. Our family played it for years. I play it with myself when I drive and can’t find NPR in the sparseness of western Nebraska.
Brandreth mentions words that look as if they have to mean one thing but by golly they don’t. My favorite is “nunlet,” which is not a small nun but a small brown South American bird. “Largesse” does not indicate a large “S.” A “stalemate” is not an ex-spouse, and a “shamrock” is not a fake diamond.” The word “antimony” does not mean money inherited from an aunt. “Amidst” sounds like but is not a thick fog. However much you want the word “ingenious” to mean not smart, it means just the opposite.
He includes the longest tongue twister, “Shrewd Simon Short’s Saga.” A short sampling — “Simon’s spry, sedulous spouse, Sally Short, sewed shirts, stitched sheets, stuffed sofas. Simon’s six stout sons — Seth, Samuel, Stephen Saul, Silas, Shadrach –sold sundriesâ€¦.” It goes on (and on), just short of 600 sibilant sounds, every single first syllable starting with an “s.”
The author is not above listing rules for various positions in life. For editors: “Don’t use no double negatives. About them sentence fragments. When dangling watch your particles. Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read. Proofread you writing to if any words out.” Advice for men in general: “Shunning women, drink, gambling, smoking and eating will not make one live longer; it will only seem like it.” Advice for philosophers to pass along: “Live every day as if it were your last. Someday you’ll be right.”
The section on epitaphs is worthy of studying, for any of these on your tombstone might explain you: “I knew if I stayed around long enough, something like this would happen.” (George Bernard Shaw) “Back to the silents.” (Clark Gable) “Excuse my dust.” (Dorothy Parker)
Brandreth, even though an Oxford scholar, like many of us who only work for newspapers, looks for funny headlines:
MAN FOUND DEAD IN GRAVEYARD
SISTERS WED BROTHERS HAVE BABY SAME DAY
POLICE MOVE IN BOOK CASE
20-YEAR FRIENDSHIP ENDS AT THE ALTAR
DEAD POLICEMAN IN THE FORCE FOR 18 YEARS
NEWLYWEDS AGED 82, HAVE PROBLEM
MORE MEN FOUND WEDDED THAN WOMEN (As times change, this is no longer poor word order but possibly the truth.)
More Joy of Lex has been around so long (late 1970s) that it now costs one cent on Amazon. Go for broke and treat yourself.