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Books of Interest

Reviewed by Dean Tudor


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 Centre.

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 of libraries.

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 words.

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 the rest".

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
David Wilton

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 fascinating.

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.


The Skeptical Business Searcher:
The Information Advisor's Guide to Evaluating Web Data, Sites and Sources

Robert Berkman
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 robots command.

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, libraries.

Some interesting facts: "My number one source - heads and shoulders above the rest - is Gary Price's Resource Shelf" (www.resourceshelf.com)

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
Larry Patriquin

Fernwood Publishing
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, reporters.

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 page.

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
Michael Riordon

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 do it."

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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