cover image You Could Look It Up

You Could Look It Up

William Safire. Crown Publishers, $22.5 (357pp) ISBN 978-0-8129-1324-8

In this fifth collection of ``On Language'' pieces, the New York Times columnist again provides a forum for readers who wish to discuss matters further. Many of Safire's columns evoke vigorous response, such as the one on President Reagan's description of the Marines' withdrawal from Lebanon in '84at linguistic issue was an acceptable euphemism for retreat. Of the Miss/Mrs./Ms. controversy Safire writes: ``It breaks my heart to suggest this, but the time has come for Ms.'' In the same vein, he calls for a codification of ``electronic etiquette'' in word-processor communication: Dear So-and-so ``seems out of place when written in green letters on a black screen.'' He passes along useful coinages from readers, such as biopanic , ``the physiological process of a woman's biological clock insisting that she start having babies.'' Not one to take himself too seriously as America's Language Maven, Safire admits to a fondness for concocting women's names (Helena Handbasket et al.), bringing on a flood of delightful silliness from readers. Also included in the collection is a reprint of the author's New York Times Magazine article on political rhetoric, a witty critique of oratorical and anti-oratorical performances at the 1984 Democratic convention. (August)