THE RIGHT WORD IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular "On Language" Column in the New York Times Magazine

William Safire, Author . Simon & Schuster $27 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7432-4244-8

Safire has published more than a dozen, often bestselling, collections (No Uncertain Terms , etc.) of his acerbic weekly columns on the English language. In his crisply witty commentaries, he does more than elucidate the origins of slang or correct common grammatical mistakes: he alerts readers to the rhetorical maneuvers of our politicians and public figures as only a former speechwriter can. Bush's phrase "Leave no child behind," the atomic origins of "ground zero," the difference between "antiterrorism" and "counterterrorism," and Tony Blair's diplomatic use of a moveable modifier in an Israeli speech all occasion the use of Safire's talent for analyzing the speech of our decision makers. His gift for plucking examples of more general shifts in word usage from the most obscure news reports and for picking up on debates surrounding word use is unmatched. Several of his columns cross-examine Supreme Court wording, and this volume includes entertainingly vigilant ripostes to Safire from Justice Antonin Scalia. Safire is adept at rooting out literary influences and half-remembered poetic allusions, tracking the appearances of, for example, Lewis Carroll's delightful verb "galumph." Unfortunately, Safire's command of foreign languages is less than reliable, as he records Jacques Barzun and others pointing out. And he can veer into chauvinism (for instance, calling for the world to adopt American-style layout for the day's date). Yet the investigations gathered here, each in an unfailingly droll tone, will instruct and delight all readers who share Safire's love of language and its endless permutations. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-1-4516-1361-2
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-4165-8740-8
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