9 Best Books About Words Update 05/2022

Words are interesting. Look, being a kid with a lot of words might not always make you popular. Most people don’t want to hear that they’re using the word ironic in the wrong way, and that’s not good. But that won’t stop us from having fun with all the weird and wonderful words out there. I mean, who doesn’t want to find out what cromnyomancy is all about? What does this word mean? (It’s about onions, of course.)

Learning new words or hearing the history of a word you use every day is always a good way to learn about language (like how sarcasm comes from a Greek word meaning to tear off the flesh). There is a word for when a group of people are shrewd. As if there was a real doctor who made us be in a trance. Or, could it be that the word for that cozy spot by the fire is inglenook? Because no one has time to read the whole dictionary, there are a lot of wordy books you can read if you want to improve your vocabulary, learn more about linguistics, or improve your Bananagrams game. If you’re a true fan of words, you should check out these books:

Thereby Hangs a Tale by Charles Earle Funk

The word “school” comes from the word “leisure.” A great philosopher named dunce is the name of the word hearse. Thereby Hangs a Tale: Stories of Word Origins will make you look at words in a whole new way. You can read it all at once and learn about all the weird little word histories, or you can enjoy it piece by piece. Either way, you’ll learn a lot of interesting word facts.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter

We thought we’d never find a book about the history of grammar that was interesting to read. Turns out, though, that we were wrong. John McWhorter is able to make the history of syntax into a story about Vikings and strange Celtic remnants. McWhorter is able to take a word like “do” and make it into a mystery that has been going on for hundreds of years! And he breaks down some of the most annoying grammar rules. After reading this book, you’ll be able to boldly split infinitives and end sentences with as many prepositions as you want.

The Insomniac’s Dictionary by Paul Hellweg

You should read this book when you’re awake at night and wondering what the longest word in English is. The title says so. In terms of length, this might be the best. Or the most weird. People who have insomnia can find whole chapters in the dictionary about different phobias and manias, words that don’t have vowels, words about insomnia, and words about words, as well as words for words. Sure to make you a Scrabble master (or at least help you out if you need a “q” word with no “u” in it).

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

He does this with a lot of humor, wit, and wordplay to show how our language isn’t always what we think it is. People will laugh out loud when they read about the schwa vowel sound in this book. When Bryson takes his readers on a fun trip through English’s history, he points out some of the weirdest and most obscure things the language has to offer.

The Word Circus by Richard Lederer, illustrated by Dave Morice

There’s a book for people who miss the word games they did as kids. The Word Circus is full of anagrams, rhymes, palindromes, and pictures of kangaroos. Really, what more could you want from a word book than that? People play word games and make a lot of funny jokes. Take a break from learning about how words came to be with a dose of nonsense.

The Snark Handbook by Lawrence Dorfman

Getting a good insult is one of the best feelings in the world. There is no need to insult your friends and acquaintances, but the art of the perfect jab is worth pursuing for its own sake, even if you don’t want to insult anyone. People who read the Snark Handbook: Insult Edition will find a lot of clever responses, snide remarks, and put-downs. Even if you never use them, they are still worth reading even if you never use them. There are times when it’s necessary for you to say something mean, but you’ll be ready for them.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

A lot of the time, the punctuation used in Lynne Truds’ book isn’t very important. This means that this is a little bit of a “cheat.” But, if you’re going to read a strict punctuation book, let this one be the one to read. Truss is just so amusing, even when she’s yelling at you for not using commas correctly, even though she is. Punctuation is often not given enough attention, but it is very important to reading! A panda who only eats leaves and shoots is very different from a panda who eats, shoots, and leaves.

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea

It’s a wonderful story about how he read every word and definition in the twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary. He talks about what he thinks and shows off all of the little things he finds on the way. Each letter of the alphabet has its own chapter in the book, which is broken up into twenty-six parts. When you finish chapter sixteen and learn the definition of petrichor, your newfound knowledge is sure to make the next rainstorm more enjoyable for you.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

The Oxford English Dictionary is based on the true story of two men who were both very special and had very unusual interests. This book tells their story. The project began in 1857, and it took a long time to finish the OED. This book talks about hardships and obstacles, shares interesting oddities, and is a surprise to find that it’s a good book to read.

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