The Miracle of Language. Richard Lederer. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1991. 254 pages.
I love it! But that is no surprise to those of you who frequent my blog. I have quoted or referenced Lederer more than a few times recently.
This book is a compilation of articles, some of which were previously published in other venues such as Verbatim, Writer’s Digest, and Writing!. However, the chapters have been exceptionally well adapted and arranged such that the book is a joy to read.
Section One is composed of six chapters related to the philosophy and history of language. Sounds kind of boring doesn’t it? Please hear me when I say that Richard Lederer is never-ever boring. Lederer makes language
interesting fascinating and fun, such that only he could correct the grammar of a police officer and have it result in him NOT getting a traffic ticket (Introduction).
Section Two contains four chapters each of which explores specific language problems. Is English prejudiced? (Yes). Do we have all the words we need? (No). Can a single word or letter completely altar the intended communication? (Yes). Is our speech and writing full of recurrently repetitive redundancies? (Yes. “The sum total and end result [about as final as you can get] are that we can join together [more effective than joining apart] to fight the good fight against every single one of these redundancies. We can drive them from our house and home. We can bring them, in the words of many a flight attendant and police officer, to a complete stop, and we can kill them dead. That would be so incredible it would be unbelievable.)
Section Three is devoted to biographical essays on some literary wordmakers; – – Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Johnson, Ambrose Bierce, &tc. Beware of these eight chapters if your time is limited. For, after reading Lederer’s tributes to these greats you will be driven to their books as if hearing “Tolle, lege; tolle, lege.”
Section Four gives attention to the topics of libraries, books, letters, and poetry. In these chapters you will find stimulating discussions of those topics and some great quotes . A book cannot be a Richard Lederer book without a good dose of silly fun. There is plenty of this scattered throughout the text but is forefront in chapter twenty-one, “Ya Got Any Good Books Here?”. In it, he shares some of the most, well … , strange questions asked of librarians. However, do not mistake Lederer’s silliness for flippancy. Lederer is very serious about words and has a strong desire for his audience to grow and develop in its appreciation of language. One of his most instructive chapters is found in this section and is entitled “You Can Be A Poet.” In it he shares pedagogical and heuristic tools for the writing of poetry.
And, Section Five consists of thirty-seven pages of Words About Words. I previously shared select quotes from his extensive list.
Now, I conclude with a quote from the Introduction to this book:
If you are a genuine linguophile, an authentic logolept, and a certifiable verbivore, you are in for a lifetime of joy. You don’t have to go to a special room like a laboratory or a theater or a special part of the country or the world to experience your delight. You have only to listen to the sounds that escape through the holes in people’s faces and pay heed to the messages that flow from their pens and luminesce up on their computer screens. That is the stuff that this book is made on. That is the miracle that we call language.
A “lifetime of joy” sounds pretty good to me. How about you? Get the book and it will be a great benefit to you as you pursue being “a genuine linguophile, an authentic logolept, and a certifiable verbivore.”
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