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Books of Interest: Sources 58

Reviewed by Dean Tudor



A Dictionary of Superstitions
Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, editors
Oxford University Press
1989, 2005, 494 pages, $17.95 US, ISBN 0-19-280664-5

This paperback reissue of the 1989 original includes divinations, spells, cures, charms, signs and omens, rituals, and taboos. And, of course, it is arranged A - Z by term. Its scope is mainly coverage of those superstitions from Great Britain and Eire which survived into the twentieth century. These everyday domestic beliefs are tagged to some literary reference and some date. And it is cross-referenced for browsing.
Audience or interest level: writers, general public, reference book.
Some interesting facts: I am not quite sure why it is copyrighted 2005 since this is just a reissue of the 1989 original, with no visible signs of updating. It had also been reissued in 1992 and 1996.
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): cheap paper and a modest binding, designed to keep the price down.
What I do like about this resource (its positives): it has an analytical index with no page references - just see and see also references to the dictionary entries.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 91

Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language
Tom McArthur, editor, and Roshan McArthur, assistant editor
Oxford University Press
1998, 2005, 692 pages, $25.95, ISBN 0-19-280637-8

This is a paperback reissue of the 1998 abridgement of The Oxford Companion to the English Language. As the original companion presented key aspects of English at the cusp of the 20th - 21st century, then the abridgement presents even "keyer" aspects of the event. Here is coverage of the varieties of English around the world, the cultural impact of the language, the nature and origins of words, some pronunciation, vocabulary, usage, and word-formation. There are chronologies and a theme bibliography in the appendices. It is, like other companions, arranged in dictionary style, A - Z, with copious cross-references.
Audience or interest level: writers, general public, reference book.
Some interesting facts: This is just a reissue of the 1998 edition, but in paper covers. The "concise" is a further cut down version of the 1996 "abridgement" to the full-sized Companion (published in 1992). Thus, this is a reprint of a reduction of a reduction of an original. Got that?
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): cheap paper and a modest binding, designed to keep the price down.
What I do like about this resource (its positives): a great buy, even cheaper through the online book stores.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 95

Fanboys and Overdogs; the language report
Susie Dent
Oxford University Press
2005, 163 pages, $25.95, ISBN 0-19-280676-9 hard covers

Susie Dent is a word expert featured on British TV and radio (also see Barber below). This is the third annual tour of new slang and buzzwords, principally in the UK; as well, this "language report" seeks to update the other two. New words are constantly entering our language, and of late, these have apparently come from the worlds of politics, fashion and media, business and trademarks. Newly minted words on the international stage (beyond the UK) include "crackberry". My own suggestion to this will be "redberry", now being used to describe the cheaper Chinese knockoffs. In case you are wondering, "fanboy" is a male fan of geek culture (there is a fangirl), and "overdog" is a successful person who is dominant in one's field (although Oxford uses the phrase "in their field" when defining the singular word). Here's a puzzler: chapter 15 deals with "dogs" and their use as catchphrases, but there is no reference here to "overdogs". Chapter topics embrace headline writers, business speak, the language of undergarments, a comparison of Johnson's 1755 dictionary with the OED of 2005, the rise of swear words, and what looks to be a long commercial for the OED online (not a free service). VIP words of late have included SARS (2002), podcasting (2004) and sudoku (2005). These are found in the last chapter which deals with VIP words of the previous 100 years (one per year).
Audience or interest level: the curious, reporters looking for a soft story, word freaks, general reference.
Some interesting facts: "Creativity is at the expense of linguistic correctness, and goes hand in hand with a dumbing down. Complaints about the state of English tend to focus on two areas: bad usage, and bad language. Laments continue over a perceived decline in standards."
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): UK orientation. One new word is "third" (1/3 of a UK pint of beer, less than 7 ounces).
What I do like about this resource (its positives): the commentaries on tabooed words, and there is also an index leading to a direct entry for the new words.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 89

Six Words You Never Knew Had Something To Do With Pigs and Other Fascinating Facts About the Language From Canada's Word Lady
Katherine Barber
Oxford University Press
2006, 224 pages, $24.95, ISBN 0-19-542440-9 hard covers

Katherine Barber is Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Dictionary Department at Oxford University Press in Toronto, frequently appearing on Canadian TV and radio (see also Dent above). Unlike Dent, though, Barber sticks to the history of older words - about 500 of them. She has been known on the CBC as the "Word Lady", and indeed this book is based on that gig. She organizes them by season and then thematically within (e.g., Winter has words associated with the flu season, New Year's, Christmas, pension planning; Spring is all Easter, taxes and cottages). Themes may be Canadian but the words are all international English. Her popular etymologies hark back to Mediaeval French, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Asiatic and Canadian aboriginal origins. The word "mitten" for example comes from Provencal, "maven" from Yiddish, "hooch" from Tlingit, and "chipmunk" from Ojibwa. There is an index to the specific words.
Audience or interest level: word freaks, general reference.
Some interesting facts: The word "soil" is associated with pigs. In modern French, the verb "souiller" means to make dirty, a corruption of the Latin verb "suculare" which is derived from "suculus", meaning a little pig (as in suckling pig). Yet she has no mention of the widely-known phrase "soo-yi-lee" which is used in pig calling and pig-calling contests.
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): there are some typos (a contents reference to RRSPs should be 207). Also, try looking up "pigs" in the index in order to find the six words alluded to in the book's title. You won't find it. You have to see farm stuff under Spring in the contents page and then go to that chapter and poke around.
What I do like about this resource (its positives): there are indexes to the words described and to the languages from which they are derived.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 90


Yahoo! To The Max; an extreme searcher guide
Randolph Hock
2005, CyberAge Books (Information Today), 232 pages, $33.95, ISBN 0-910965-69-2

Hock is an award-winning writer and Internet trainer. His previous book for CyberAge was The Extreme Searcher's Internet Handbook (2004). Except for a few screen shots, this book looks like it was put to bed at the end of 2004. While this currently reduces its up-to-date usefulness, it is still a reader-friendly guide to online research, communications, investments, and e-commerce through the Yahoo portal. Forty or so features are explained, including the invaluable My Yahoo, the News Alerts, and Instant Messaging. At one time Yahoo was a leader, but now it comes up with its own competitive versions of stuff developed by other companies such as AOL (for IM) or Google (News, Toolbar). Yahoo had E-mail accounts long before Google, but its storage was a mere 2 MB. When Google began GMail, it upped the free storage to 1 GB - and Yahoo responded in kind. Previously, the extra storage was a "premium" which Yahoo subscribers had to pay for. The Yahoo drill-through directory is its best contribution, but this is not really mentioned anywhere in the book. My Yahoo is a solid reason for my using the system, with its built-in RSS feeds, features, news, weather, sports, etc. But otherwise there is nothing particularly Canadian about Yahoo except its affiliation with Rogers (not mentioned in the book) and its "dot ca" domain, which is ultimately confusing to many in the U.S. My wife has a Yahoo.Ca account, but many of her American friends get back bounces if they type in Yahoo.Com instead. Apparently, Yahoo has no system of forwarding. Personally, I've found loading Google to be faster than Yahoo on dialup. But they are about the same on broadband. Why? Maybe it's because Yahoo has more images in its adverts (Google's ads are largely text-based URLs).
Audience or interest level: Internet users, reporters, those wishing to utilize Yahoo.
Some interesting facts: "This book is aimed at helping you easily identify and use the parts of Yahoo! that are relevant to you. It is arranged so that you can readily spot and skip over the sections that are obviously of no interest."
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): there are disclaimer notices - why are these necessary?
What I do like about this resource (its positives): a solid introduction to Yahoo. There are weblinks and updates at www.extremesearcher.com.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 87


The Invention of Journalism Ethics; the path to objectivity and beyond
Stephen J.A. Ward
McGill-Queen's University Press
2004, 360 pages, $65, ISBN 0-7735-2810-5 hard covers ($29 paper covers)

Ward is an associate professor of journalism ethics at the School of Journalism, University of British Columbia; he was formerly with CP. This book is #38 in the McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Ideas. It deals with the twin subjects of journalism ethics and objectivity. Ward says that journalists and the public need a new theory to enable them to recognize and avoid biased and unbalanced reporting. At the same time, he recognizes that objectivity is not based on absolute standards. Rather, the situation, context, and the relationship with the elements of society come into play. He traces origins, and hence his work is also a history of journalism ethics (partisan English newsbooks of the 1600s, the objectivity in the late 1800s, modern day constructs of weaseling). Nevertheless, there is a difference between "journalist", "editor" and "publisher" which needs to be explored. While the first is covered in this book (along with society), it is actually the other two who make the major decisions. Could this book also herald the return of media literacy? There is a bibliography for further reading, plus a scholarly index.
Audience or interest level: academics, journalism ethicists, journalism students.
Some interesting facts: "I have not written a practical manual for implementing pragmatic objectivity. I have not analyzed news articles or news organizations. Instead, I have constructed a philosophical framework for understanding the evolution of journalism ethics and the concept of objectivity."
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): I thought Ward needed to delve more into the publisher's profit motive. Freedom of the press belongs to the owner of the press, as A.J. Liebling said.
What I do like about this resource (its positives): an interesting read.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 88 (paperback)

News, Truth and Crime: the Westray disaster and its aftermath
John L. McMullan
Fernwood Publishing
2005, 112 pages, $14.95, ISBN 1-55266-173-3 paper covers

McMullan is a professor of sociology and criminology at Saint Mary's University on Halifax. He has written many books and articles on business crime and the media and crime. Here he examines the media coverage devoted to the ten year (1992-2002) aftermath of the May 9, 1992 explosion where 26 miners died at the Westray mine. This is media content analysis; some of the book's material has been drawn from lectures, conferences, and seminars at universities. It follows on Fernwood Publishing's collection (edited by C. McCormick) The Westray Chronicles; a case study in corporate crime (1999). The focus of the current project was to study the connections between power, knowledge, and truth in three related institutional areas: the media, the criminal justice system, and the public inquiry. McMullan recounts the tragedy and the subsequent media coverage in about 100 pages, including 23 convincing tables. His book is to be the first in a series to be a systematic study of the disaster and aftermath; it lays the groundwork and the theses. His bibliography includes a good listing of other books which cover, among other topics, news coverage of disasters and corporate crimes from other places, such as Catholic priests and sexual abuse, the Goteburg dancehall fire, Ford Pintos, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Yellowstone forest fires. Unfortunately, the book has no index.
Audience or interest level: media observers, journalism students.
Some interesting facts: "McMullan concludes that the press imagined crime out in their collective representation of Westray and after. The press did not demarcate the corporation as capable of killing, and the news coverage, while registering alternative truths, did not reconstitute the truth of Westray as corporate criminality." In other words, the press missed the story.
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): NO INDEX!
What I do like about this resource (its positives): interesting analysis of news as a truth-telling exercise.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 88 (shame about that index, or lack of same)

Published in
Sources 58, Summer 2006.


See Also:
Valuable Clues to Finding What You Need to Know (Sources 40)
Sources 41 Reference Shelf
Sources 44 Resource Bookshelf
Sources 45 Resource Bookshelf
Sources 46 Resource Bookshelf
Sources 52 Resource Bookshelf
Sources 58 Books of Interest
Sources Select Resources Reviews Index


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