‘Lost in Translation’ by Ella Frances Sanders *****

I was lucky enough to be able to borrow Ella Frances Sanders’ Lost in Translation, from my local library.  I received a copy of Speaking in Tongues for Christmas, and loved it, so my hopes were high for her debut.  (Yes, I clearly like reading books by this particular author out of their original publication order).  Lost in Translation is a wonderful compendium of untranslateable words and phrases which have no equivalent in English.

9780224100809Sanders’ introduction to Lost in Translation is lovely; in thoughtful and well-written prose, the author highlights just how important different concepts are in cultures other than the British.  She clearly has a passion for collecting rather obscure linguistic references, and is eager to share those important finds with her readers.

I would highly recommend Lost in Translation, as well as Speaking in Tongues.  Whilst neither book is particularly literary, or very taxing, each entry, along with the wonderful illustrations which accompany it, is a real joy for the word nerds amongst us.

Below are a few of my favourite entries from Lost in Translation, which is undoubtedly a tome which I shall pick up many times in future.

  • Gezellig (Dutch): essentially the Dutch version of hygge, a Danish trend which is everywhere at present.
  • Pisan Zapra (Malay): the time needed to eat a banana.
  • Hiraeth (Welsh): a homesickness for something or somewhere you cannot return to; the nostalgia for your past, or for something imagined.
  • Boketto (Japanese): gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking of anything specific.
  • Vacilando (Spanish): when the experience of travelling is more important than the destination.
  • Tsundoku (Japanese): the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, and piling it up with other unread books.
  • Naz (Urdu): the pride and assurance that comes from knowing that you are loved unconditionally.
  • Cafone (Brazilian Portuguese): the act of running your fingers through the hair of somebody you love.

There have been glowing reviews about this gift book already, and I hardly need to add to them.  Regardless, if you are looking for a thoughtful gift, or merely want to treat yourself, I would look no further.

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One From the Archive: ‘Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities’ by Paul Anthony Jones ***

Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities is inspired by author Paul Anthony Jones’ popular Twitter feed, HaggardHawks.  Its blurb proclaims that Word Drops is ‘a language book unlike any other’.  In reality, one cannot help but notice it bears an almost striking resemblance to Mark Forsyth’s excellent The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (review here).

Word Drops provides one thousand ‘linguistic and etymological titbits that all fall together into one long interconnected chain…  with each fact neatly “dropping” into place beside the next’.   Its ‘smattering of unexpected connections and weird juxtapositions’ is ‘here to inspire your curiosity and delight into discovery’.  It also takes into account cultures and historical facts from all over the globe.

Throughout, Jones has included what he terms ‘footnotes’, but they cannot really be described as such; instead, they are paragraphs written in tiny font beneath some of the entries, which further explain or give background to a particular fact).  These are often useful, but do detract somewhat from the chain of facts when one has to keep stopping to read them.

Word Drops is easy enough to dip in and out of, and is not too taxing to read in a single sitting either.  Some of the facts which Jones has used – more of them than one would expect, really – already sit within the commonplace consciousness of fact finders.  Others are thankfully far more quirky and interesting.  Of the latter, such intriguing factual titbits as the following are included: ‘Gossamer means “goose-summer”, probably in reference to the similarity of gossamer to goose down’; ‘Shakespeare’s Henry IV: Part 1 contains the earliest recorded use of the words upstairs and downstairs‘; ‘The Russian equivalent of “easier said than done” – blizok lokotok, da ne ukusish – means “your elbow is close, but you can’t bite it”‘; ‘In Middle English, muggle was another name for a fish tail’; and ‘The Scots word tartle refers to the awkward hesitation of having to introduce someone whose name you can’t remember’.

The facts do link into one another quite cleverly in places, and a lot of thought has clearly gone into their ordering and the general structure of the book.  We are therefore transported from such facts as ‘To perendinate is to put something off until the day after tomorrow’ to the definition of ‘checkmate’ five entries later, and from ‘In Finland, a poronkusema is the distance a reindeer can travel without stopping to urinate – roughly four and a half miles’, to ‘A quarantine was once the length of time a widow was permitted to remain in her deceased husband’s home’.  I found it rather a nice touch that it goes full circle, wherein the final fact links in with the first one, providing quite a fitting end to such a work.

Whilst Word Drops is relatively entertaining, it is not quite as wonderful or as well put together as Forsyth’s aforementioned work.  It is a real shame that the book contained a couple of grammatical errors too; rather ironic, given that the whole is a celebration of language.

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One From the Archive: ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ by Mark Forsyth ****

In his newest non-fiction offering, Mark Forsyth – author of the popular books The Etymologicon and The Horologicon – sets out to explore the ‘big subject’ of rhetoric.  In The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, he focuses particularly upon the figures of rhetoric – ‘not by saying something different, but by saying it in a different way’ – and the ways in which each can be used.

Forsyth has touched upon the foundations of English language, detailing the history of how rhetoric techniques came about and how they have been used since.  He weaves his way from obvious things like alliteration and antithesis, to the more obscure aposiopesis and adynaton. He states that his aim is to ‘explain the figures of rhetoric’, informing his readers that he has ‘simply adopted the rule of Humpty-Dumpty: When I use a rhetorical term, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.

Forsyth has split up the text in his new book into short chapters, all of which link into one another.  The theme of connection which is central in The Etymologicon has been used here to good effect, giving the book a great structure.

‘The Elements of Eloquence’ (Icon Books)

Examples are given throughout, and Shakespeare is a common figure of focus.  His writing is cited through the entire book to give examples of almost every rhetorical technique which can be used within the English language, demonstrating everything from paradox to iambic pentameter.  In his characteristic chatty style, Forsyth states such things as: ‘Shakespeare simply knew that people are suckers for alliteration and that it’s pretty damned easy to make something alliterate (or that it’s surprisingly simple to add alliteration)’.  Forsyth also uses examples from a wealth of different sources in the fields of literature and music, from Dickens, Austen, Keats, Tennyson and Wilde to John Lennon, Neil Armstrong and Mick Jagger.

Each entry in The Elements of Eloquence is quite short – bitesize, almost, which makes it a great volume to read a little at a time.  Throughout, Forsyth practices what he preaches.  When writing about parataxis – or ‘Farmer’s English’ – for example, where everything is directly stated in separate, non-linking sentences, he adopts the same style in his description.  When he moves on to speak of how conjunctions can be used to ‘keep your sentence going and going forever’, he demonstrates how this is done.

The Elements of Eloquence is sure to delight word nerds the world over, and it will also greatly appeal to anyone who is interested in the many ways in which our great language can be put together.  It is fascinating and informative, and even grammarians are sure to learn something.

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Flash Reviews: Non-Fiction (24th May 2014)

Millions Like Us: Women’s Lives in the Second World War by Virginia Nicholson **** (2011)

‘Millions Like Us’ by Virginia Nicholson (Penguin)

1. I adore history, particularly that which deals with women, and Nicholson has presented her information so well in this book.  She states that she ‘wanted to find out not only what the did in the war, but what the war did to them and how it changed their subsequent lives and relationships’.
2. Nicholson has focused upon a wealth of women from so many different walks of life, merging history with biography, and bringing some fascinating characters to the forefront of her work.  We meet, through her words, famous diarists like Nella Last and Mollie Panter-Downes, the privileged in society, and novelists such as Nina Bawden and Barbara Cartland.
3. The chronological structure which Nicholson has adopted works so well, as did the sectioning of information into short chapters, all of which dealt with a different element of wartime life for women – from rationing to conscription.

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In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, His Poem and The Poppy by Herwig Verleyen **** (1995)

‘In Flanders Fields’ by Herwig Verleyen (de Klaproos)

1. My Dad visited Ypres recently with my uncle, and purchased this lovely little book for me.  It was originally written in Flemish, and has been translated so carefully.
2. I am fascinated by John McCrae – he has been one of my favourite poets since I was about twelve – and I oddly knew very little about him.  Verleyen, as well as writing of his subject, sets out McCrae’s fascinating family history, and how the family came to settle in Canada, where John was born.
3. Verleyen writes with such clarity about McCrae’s use of poetry as an outlet for the horrors which he witnessed during the First World War, whilst he was stationed between Boezinge and Ypres.

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Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling by David Crystal **** (2013)

‘Spell It Out’ by David Crystal (Profile Books)

1. I have never read a David Crystal book in its entirety, but I have read many passages and partial essays of his as part of my English Language module at University.  I thought that it was high time to purchase one of his books at the start of the year, and couldn’t resist this lovely hardback edition.  As I am something of a Grammar Nazi (yes, I have been called this many a time), Spell It Out looked right up my street.
2. Crystal has set out to show the peculiarities of spelling in the English language, and has written about how each came about over time.  The structure which he has adopted is chronological, starting with the Anglo Saxon monks who tasked themselves with writing down the English language, and how the flaws in their system were rectified over time.
3. The whole is very succinctly and skilfully written, and Crystal is such an engaging author.  I presume that this book would make spelling of interest to even the most reluctant learners.

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