Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #300: In Other Words by Christopher J. Moore

Book people like words, for obvious reasons. Some of us even "collect" words -- using some more often than anyone else, or going out of their way to use an obscure word when a simple one would do.

That can be fun or tedious, depending on how often it's done, who does it, and how inherently annoying the word is. But, if it's something you like to do, you'll need places to find new words.

If you're one of those people, I can recommend this book: In Other Words by Christopher J. Moore. The subtitle is "A Language Lover's Guider to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World," which pretty well describes the purpose: it collects a hundred or so words that have distinct and unique meanings in their native tongues that can't easily be translated into English.

It was published in 2004 by Walker, apparently for the yuppie writing supply company Levenger, and it looks like a heavily-designed book made for self-satisfied people willing to drop a couple of Benjamins on a single pen.

That isn't necessarily bad, but it seeps into the tone of the text to some degree -- from subtle things like Chapter 9 covering "Indigenous Languages," as if the vast majority of the languages earlier in the book were alien to the people who speak them, to the self-satisfied comments about "Asian" ways of thinking in other chapters.

Luckily, no one is going to read In Other Words for Christopher Moore's cross-cultural insights. We're all here for things like duende and tovarishch and sempai and koyaanisqatsi -- words that we can use, that mean specific things that we understand (more or less), and that are quicker than the phrase we'd otherwise need in English.

In Other Words is good for those: it's divided into ten chapters, each of which covers one group of languages, vaguely in descending order of number of speakers and/or how well-known they already are to English-speaking people. (Though Ancient and Classical Languages is the eighth chapter, and I hope Latin is still better-known than that.) Each chapter has a Moore introduction about how special that particular language is -- this descends into cultural cliches pretty regularly, but it pretty much has to -- and then has a number of words, each with a paragraph or three about what they mean and how native speakers use them.

So it does not have a lot of words in its 127 pages; the full list of terms covered fits neatly into a four-page "Word Finder" at the end. But Moore gives each of those words enough context that the reader can use them, at least in a half-understanding way, in an English conversation. And that is what we would want out of it anyway. So In Other Words is entertaining and useful for word lovers, providing a sense of uitbuiken in the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment