Reviewed by Dean Tudor
REFERENCE BOOKS FOR JOURNALISTS
The Canadian Writer's Handbook, 4th edition
William E. Messenger, et al
Oxford University Press
2005, 667 pages, $46.95 hard covers, ISBN 0-19-541825-5
There's a lot of these student/writer guides out there in the marketplace.
For a purchase, I usually recommend that it be "Canadian"
and that it be the largest available. Sometimes the largest ones
have been made larger by the addition of exercises. There's nothing
wrong with that, just be aware that exercises are included here.
This current work has been a standard reference for the past 25
years, and it is now updated by two teachers from the UBC Writing
As with all such guides, the major topics are sentence construction,
grammar, parts of speech and syntax, punctuation, "mechanics",
spelling, diction and usage, composition, and research (with documentation
citing styles of MLA, APA, Chicago, and the like). Canadian sources,
spelling and usage are featured. There are fifty charts and tables,
plus appendices on symbols, proofreading checklists, checklists
for revising papers, and editing.
The authors stress that the book is all about avoiding common errors
in written English, and thus there are optional exercises to test
one. Some attention is given to the requirements of non-native English
speakers, although the book is not really an ESL type. There is
an entry in the index for "English, as an additional language"
followed by few page references.
Audience or interest level: students, writers, reference collections
Some interesting facts: "Quotation" must be exact. A
well-documented "paraphrase" reproduces the content of
the original, but in different words. A "summary" is a
condensation, a boiled-down version that expresses only the principal
points of an original source.
What I don't like about this resource: the list of reference sources
is to just books: no maps, no news sources, no Internet.
What I do like about this resource: there is a good summary on
how to find what you need in looking things up in this particular
book (table of contents, index, marking symbols, exercises).
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 90.
Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang
John Ayto and John Simpson
Oxford University Press
2005, 324 pages, $22.95 paper covers, ISBN 0-19-861052-1
Ayto has created dictionaries before, notably the wonderful Food
and Drink Dictionary. This book was first published in 1992,
and here it is revised and updated. There are 5000 slang words and
phrases here, words commonly found in the UK, North America, Australia,
and other parts of the English-speaking world.
The compilers identify three types of slang: low life; professional
arcane; and highly colloquial. Most of the slang in this book has
been derived from the Oxford English Dictionary. The work
contains the slang of the twentieth century, although the authors
say that some minor terms have been dropped, plus 500 others currently
in preparation for the OED but not yet published there. This then
becomes an exciting preview, since that means 10% of the book has
not yet appeared in Oxford dictionaries.
Some changes in approaches to words are also indicated. For example,
the word "flapper" began as a late 19th century slang
term for an unconventional woman. Now, it apparently means a young
woman of the 1920s, and it is no longer considered slang. These
can be tough calls to make when the limit of the book is only 5000
For each entry there is a definition, an account of the origins,
the date and first use in print, and a use example. The range is
from "abaht" (UK, British dialect for "about")
to "zowie" (US, astonishment). There is also some UK rhyming
slang here, but that needs to be approached with caution since there
are so many rhymes that pertain to the UK only and are totally lost
on the rest of the world - where does one cut it off?
Audience or interest level: word hounds, reference libraries.
Some interesting facts: "The vocabulary of slang changes rapidly:
what's new and exciting for one generation is old-fashioned for
What I don't like about this resource: the slang term "sweet
F.A" here means "nothing at all", and the "F.A."
is indicated as meaning "Fanny Adams", a reference to
doing nothing. I always thought that "sweet F.A." was
actually "SFA" and meant "sweet fuck all". And
to find THAT reference, you've got to look up "Fanny Adams"
under "F" to find a "sweet fuck all".
What I do like about this resource: well, there's no use of Google
or any other search engine to find slang on the Internet, so that
makes it easier to freeze-frame the inventory of words. The book
is a great read for bedtime. Or the john.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 93.
Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends
Oxford University Press
2004, 221 pages, $27.95 paper covers, ISBN 0-19-517284-1
Wilton is the creator and editor of wordorigins.org, one of the
best reference sites on the Web. In his introduction here, he answers
two questions: what is a linguistic urban legend? It is a subcategory
which propagates facts about word origins.
Many words or phrases here began life as jokes or hoaxes. Others
were distorted facts. Wilton tries to sort it all out.
The second question is: how to ferret out the truth? He uses historical
dictionaries, and other dictionaries of slang, dialect and etymology.
The remainder of the book is a deconstruction of phrases (e.g.,
ring around the rosie is not about the bubonic plague, OK did not
come from Andrew Jackson's "oll korrect", nor the "Old
Kinderhook" reference. Read the book to find out; it is absolutely
There are extensive end notes, a detailed annotated bibliography,
and an alphabetical index to the main words being discussed.
Audience or interest level: journalists (in order to help them
stop perpetuate errors)
Some interesting facts: "Those of us who stand up and call
for skepticism and reason know that there is little chance that
we can stop the spread of these legends".
What I don't like about this resource: limiting, only 221 pages.
There is much more stuff on the Internet for free.
What I do like about this resource: there is an indication that
you can find more at alt.folklore.urban (Usenet) and www.snopes.com
(Web), plus his own Web site.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 88.
COMPUTER BOOKS FOR JOURNALISTS
The Skeptical Business Searcher:
The Information Advisor's Guide to Evaluating Web Data, Sites and
Information Today, 2004, 281 pages, $44.95 paper covers, ISBN 0-910965-66-8
Berkman is the author of Find It Fast, and founder and editor
of The Information Advisor newsletter published by Information
Today, Inc. This current book is a basic online research guide to
evaluating no-cost online information, particularly business data,
on the Web.
He relies mainly on sites that promote "trusted" data
(although in some cases that trusted data maybe one-sided or unbalanced
as in PR materials). Thus, he covers company histories and overviews,
corporate sales and earnings data, SEC filings and stockholder reports,
public records, market research studies, competitive intelligence,
industry analyses, staff directories, executive biographies, survey/poll
data, press releases, news stories, niche markets, and small businesses.
He also comments on the invisible Web, the sites which have a no
All of these are illustrated with copious screen shots showing
Web sites. He tries to show the reader how to recognize bias and
misinformation, and this section is useful. There are interviews
with investigators for tips and advice. His appendix has a list
of referenced sites and sources, but this can also be found on the
book's Web site (which is also updated) books.infotoday.com/skepticalbiz.
I'm not quite sure what the skeptic reference in the title is all
about. There is a well-known saying in journalism: the difference
between a skeptic and a cynic is that the cynic is better informed.
Audience or interest level: business journalists, researchers,
Some interesting facts: "My number one source - heads and
shoulders above the rest - is Gary Price's Resource Shelf"
What I don't like about this resource: we've seen it all before,
even from a slew of books by Information Today, Inc. But this is
the latest, and the most up-to-date. Also, for us in Canada, the
material here is just American. There is no reference to Bill Dedman's
excellent powerreporting.com, Berkman's main competition.
What I do like about this resource: there is a ten point checklist
for a systematic method to evaluate Web site reliability, with a
list of other recommended evaluation checklists.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 87.
Media Books for Journalists
Inventing Tax Rage:
Misinformation in the National Post
2004, 190 pages, $24.95 paper covers, ISBN 1-55266-146-6
Patriquin is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Social Welfare and
Criminal Justice Studies at Nipissing University. His book is a
polemic about alleged news distortions during the National Post's
first year of publication: were Canada's supposedly high taxes causing
damage to the economy? Did this cause tax rage amongst the middle
class? Why did the National Post allegedly distort?
Patriquin believes that it was because the paper wanted to create
an agenda for the tax cuts that mostly benefits the wealthy. He
does a nice job discoursing here, with the flashpoint themes of
income tax, middle class, press and propaganda. He closely documents
dozens of such occurrences by the National Post to create
a right wing agenda. He firmly believes that nothing is balanced,
that only one side of the story is told.
The book is a model for using the various forms of false logic
and usage, such as improper context, loaded words and exaggeration,
irrelevance and straw men, misleading statistics, factoids, false
attributions of causality, unwarranted assumptions, anecdotal evidence,
and false analogies.
Audience or interest level: the committed reader of journalism,
Some interesting facts: "The sole objective is to influence
the public; hence, being right or wrong doesn't matter. The purpose
of the misinformation is not to seek the "truth" or to
engage in an exercise of intellectual rigour, one where logic will
triumph when all is said and done".
What I don't like about this resource: specialized material, useful
for an ethics or journalism class, but the students need to know
how to follow the arguments.
What I do like about this resource: there is a bibliography to
check out, and a handy glossary which explains automatic stabilizers,
effective tax rate, fiscal dividend, marginal tax rate, etc.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 89.
A Natural History of Latin
Tore Janson; trans. and adapted into English by Merethe Damsgard
Sorensen and Nigel Vincent
Oxford University Press
2004, 305 pages, $38.50 hard covers, ISBN 0-19-926309-4
This book, by Janson who recently retired as a professor of languages
at the University of Goteborg, was originally published in 2002
in Swedish. It is obvious that Janson loves Latin; it shows on every
Latin is the most influential language in the world. It supports
the European Romance languages, English, the Roman Catholic Church,
and most of the vocabulary in science-technology, law and culture.
This is pop history at its best, for the first 176 pages. He shows
how Latin came about in the classical world, the Dark Ages, the
Renaissance, and the Middle Ages. Latin as a language hit a bit
of a rough patch by the end of the 20th century, It was not taught
much in high schools. But it is now enjoying a comeback.
The last 100 pages of the book covers a summary of Latin grammar
and lists of Latin words and phrases still in common use (e.g.,
ad nauseum, post hoc, vox populi, plus many legal and medical terms).
Audience or interest level: communicators, those who love languages.
Some interesting facts: Latin was part of Italic languages (e.g.,
Oscan, Umbrian) that became dominant when Rome became dominant,
and soon became the lingua franca (so to speak) of the Mediterranean.
What I don't like about this resource: a bit short, I'd like more
detail, especially on the Roman Catholic church.
What I do like about this resource: there is a bibliography of
suggested readings. This is a straightforward, deft account, much
like his 2002 book Speak; A Short History of Languages.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 90.
An Unauthorized Biography of the World:
Oral history on the front lines
Between The Lines
2004, 323 pages, $26.95 paper covers, ISBN 1-896357-93-8
Riordon is the author of several other Between The Lines books,
all using aspects of oral history. Indeed, this book uses oral history
to discuss oral history. It is in memoir style, and delves into
how oral history is done in such places as First Nations (Canada),
Turkey, Chicago, Newfoundland, Peru, New York City, Cleveland, Israel,
and other places.
His concept is about telling stories, celebrating diversity, and
making connections between people. He says the book looks at how
an engaged oral history, working from the margins, seeks to address
the issues of finding voices and making sense of the world. Social
problems and social justice are uppermost in the themes, even in
the chapter where Riordon interviews an audio conservator.
Audience or interest level: oral historians, students, libraries.
Some interesting facts: "Some of the people featured in this
book call their work oral history, some do not. Some take issue
with term, but most don't care much what it's called. They just
What I don't like about this resource: no index! (that sort of
fits in with oral history).
What I do like about this resource: there is a listing of Web sites
dealing with oral history resources (international).
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 90.
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