Cover image for Spread the word
Spread the word
Safire, William, 1929-2009.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Times Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 305 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
A collection of the author's weekly columns "On language" from the New York times magazine.

Includes index.
Added Uniform Title:
New York times magazine.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1421 .S2335 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



As William Safire writes in his introduction to Spread the Word, the eleventh book collecting his "On Language" columns from The New York Times Magazine, in language matters "it's a comfort to have a rule." And yet, as he makes clear throughout this entertaining collection, the question that confronts writers and public speakers daily is deciding when a rule should be applied rigorously to a linguistic dilemma, and when that rule is best sidelined by common sense. In the two decades that Safire has entertained and enlightened readers of his weekly column, he has consistently enlivened our national conversation about what's new and what's acceptable in language. In Spread the Word, he adroitly dissects the evolution of current phrases, verbal trends, and the origins of colloquialisms that often go unexamined. He tackles all topics, from the habits of newspaper editorial writers to teenagers' argot to the often tortured speech of politicians. Here, Safire examines such conundrums as the origin of There is no free lunch; the correct use of among and between; the evolution of the word babe; the subtle distinctions between diddly squat, diddle-daddle, and just plain diddle; the meaning of bad hair day, tough sell, hard love, and shoulda, coulda, woulda; the vogue status of such words as daunting, same-old-same-old, and dope; and the inherent humor of bananas. In this vigorous and erudite assemblage, which is organized alphabetically by topic, Safire shares his infectious curiosity about how we use words with an approach that is often amusing and always thought-provoking. In fact, "On Language" columns often elicit passionate comments from Safire's readers, the Lexicographic Irregulars. A lively selection of their letters on specific linguistic issues is interspersed throughout the book. From a reader in Providence, Rhode Island, "on the indispensability of the hyphen: Personals ads seem to be a goldmine of casual usage, never proofread and seldom submitted to grammarians for grading. One gem was from a man who started describing himself as a BIG FIRM ATTORNEY." And this from Fred Cassidy, chief editor of The Dictionary of American Regional English: "Your picture of the stupid dog not responding to the command 'sic 'em' reminds me of the corresponding cat story of the man who had made three holes in the bottom of his door so that his cats could come and go when the door was closed. An efficiency-minded neighbor asked him, Couldn't all your cats use a single hole? 'No!' he glared. 'When I say scat I mean scat!'" Shown by the many letters included here--and in the delight that the Gotcha! Gang takes in correcting America's foremost language maven--readers take great enjoyment in the national dialogue that William Safire fosters about words every week.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This is Safire's eleventh foray into writing books about words. The occasion this time out is the twentieth anniversary of his popular "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine. With energy and wit, he takes us for a spin around the linguistic turf of politics, the media, and popular culture--anywhere people speak a lingo, turn a phrase, or trip over their words. We hear, for example, about alpha males (from ethology, but spoken in O. J. "Simpsonese"); learn how babe (akin to bimbo and broad) ascended from sexist slang to power feminism; and see how clean words, such as ethnic cleansing, can hide dirty deeds. Also investigated are such difficulties as making sense today out of "left wing^-right wing" political labeling, a bird metaphor that just won't fly any more; and the perils of writing with among, betwixt, and between. The Lexicographic Irregulars are assembled, too, taking aim at language lapses without mercy. The collection will work with browsers or anywhere Safire's books have appeal. Spread the word. --Philip Herbst

Library Journal Review

Here are two new books by well-known columnists/language mavens. Safire is funny, thought-provoking, and, after 20 years of writing columns for the New York Times Magazine, an American institution. Gathering these columns and including many letters from readers, his book focuses on the way our language was used historically and how it is used now. The columns are clever and highly readable, and some of the letters from readers are just as much fun. Wallraff has been writing her witty column for The Atlantic Monthly for many years. Partly a style and usage manual that will be valuable for reference and on the corner of a writing desk, this book is also a written lecture by a great English teacher. Safire and Wallraff cover some of the same ground and sometimes differ, one notable example being the use of the article an before words that start with h such as historian. The best part of these books is, in most instances, that the "right" usage is not as important as reading about how the authors formed their opinions. Safire may have a slight edge owing to name recognition, but both books will put smiles on many a reader's face.ÄLisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.