Date: Tue, 2 Sep 1997 23:34:35 -0400 From: "Barry A. Popik" Subject: Safire's WATCHING MY LANGUAGE, HDAS H-O reviews; Hot Dog & the AP BOOK REVIEW: WATCHING MY LANGUAGE: ADVENTURES IN THE WORD TRADE by William Safire $27.50, 317 pages Random House, 1997 A few confessions first: I didn't buy the book, and I have a longstanding grudge against Mr. Safire and his newspaper. I didn't buy the book, and I don't think many people will, either. The book is the ninth collection of his columns (which I HAVE read); I read this book in the store. (Barnes & Noble has comfy chairs.) $27.50 is an outrageously high price for this. In six months, I'll buy it for $10 when the returns are sold at the Strand bookstore. My longstanding grudge against Mr. Safire is well known. (THAT IS: His paper still hasn't run a "Big Apple" story--not even five years too late! When I invited Mr. Safire to the 1992 American Name Society "Big Apple" dinner (as suggested by a co-worker of mine--Safire's cousin), he didn't even reply to me! When my co-guest of honor (Charles Gillett) at that dinner died in 1995, the New York Times screwed up "the Big Apple" in his obituary! No one has ever apologized!) This book is too spooky to be believed. Spooks starts on an opening page: Grateful acknowledgment is made to _The New York Times_ for permission to reprint 76 "On Language" columns by William Safire from the May 5, 1991, through January 24, 1993, issues of _The New York Times Magazine_. So what they're selling here--for $27.50--is columns that you may have already read and that are AT LEAST FOUR AND A HALF YEARS OLD! Safire has a publisher. He has an agent. IT TOOK FOUR AND A HALF YEARS FOR THIS?? The back cover asks "Who first used the expression _Not!_?" The inside jacket asks "Who deserves credit for coining the expressions _policy wonk_, _digerati_, and _Not!_?" In BUZZWORDS: L.A. FRESHSPEAK, page 73, "Not!" is "overused and now considered _lame_." If you look at the latest RH HDAS (review follows), "Not!" goes back to 1893. You know who found that citation? ME! I've got lots of stuff on "Not!" Not only is "Not!" old news and considered lame at this date in 1997, BUT HE DIDN'T EVEN GET IT RIGHT!! There's no historical discussion, for example, of "nit!" This was one of the reasons to buy the book? On pages 161-163, he reviews "new" books that are six years old! On page 162, there's a discussion of Fowler's MODERN ENGLISH USAGE. On page 163, "If you can afford a great reference work that makes all American lexies proud, get Volume II of Fred Cassidy's Dictionary of American Regional English, published this year (1991)." Well, it's 1997, there was a Volume III... Maybe it'll sell to libraries. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------------------------------- BOOK REVIEW: RANDOM HOUSE HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG, H-O by Jonathan Lighter $65, 736 pages Simon & Schuster (Random House! Just kidding!), 1997 Another confession: some of my stuff is in this work, and my name is in the acknowledgments. This is obviously an important and major work, the second volume to be published. My complaints are more about what this is not than what it is. David Shulman objects to the number of citations after what he considers the first and most valuable ones. However, I'm not upset by TOO MANY citations--better than too few! Another person on this list commented that Lighter uses responses from students at the University of Tennessee (where he's based); again, if there are many citations, I don't have a problem with this. Obviously, I could quibble all day about individual citations. The most egregious was when I saw that "jinx" is derived from "jynx." As I posted here a few months ago, it comes from "jinks" and the popular 19th century song "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines." I'm gonna pretend I didn't see that. "Hotlanta" is here, but I've posted an earlier citation. My new stuff on "Show Me" is not here in the "Missouri" entry. "Hot diggety" is credited to TAD from 1923, but I have it in 1906. There are many other little stuff. There's a large entry for "Motherfucker." The first volume took a lot of hits for "fuck" and other such entries. I don't mind curse words. I can't say that I'm overly interested in the historical uses of every kind of curse, but there's room here for them (unlike, perhaps, other works). The big entries here are "O.K.," "jazz," "nigger," and a few others. Some entries will probably be a little difficult to read ("hobo" and "ho-boy," for example). Overall, of course, it's an important reference work. My biggest criticism is what it's not. What I want is a super book or source for the American language, and this is not that book. It's a book of SLANG, not a book of AMERICANISMS nor a book of ENGLISH WORDS. Many words and names are not here. For example, I was stunned when the first volume had "Big Apple" but not "Gotham." The second volume has "hot dog" and also "hamburger," BUT ONLY THE SLANG USES OF HAMBURGER. In other words, the RH HDAS supplements DARE and DA and DAE and OED, but doesn't render them obsolete. Also, this is a book. By the time slang books are published, it's old slang. What's needed is a computer database of the American and/or English language that's constantly updated and combines the books I've just mentioned. I want to type in "New York--1920s" and I want a group of words and phrases that would be used at that place and time. I want a big computer database! I don't want 1,000 books! I WANT TO CLEAN THIS APARTMENT! Volume III will be essential, too... ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------------------------------- HOT DOG AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS I walked into the Rockefeller Center Offices of the Associated Press. The fourth floor connected me to someone, who told me to call the AP office (609-392-3622) that made the story--Trenton, New Jersey. I was shown the way to the pay phones. Oh, great. Donna de la Cruz, who wrote yesterday's "America's Hot Dogs Immortalized," wasn't in, but I spoke to her editor. I told him that the hot dog wasn't first introduced to America at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and that Tad Dorgan didn't coin the name "hot dog" in 1906. I spent many years researching the term, I've traveled across the country, and my work has been published in scholarly journals. "We used Webster's," the editor said. Well, he should have used the Random House HDAS H-O, or the OED, or even Leonard Zwilling's TAD LEXICON. Any computer search on T. A. Dorgan should pull up the TAD LEXICON, but no "hot dog" writers ever research this far. The editor realized that the story was wrong. Sure it's trivial, but this story was read by thousands of people--many of AP's newspapers, and it was a feature story on AOL NEWS all day. Maybe MILLIONS of people read it. And the story was wrong! It was a good experience on how the AP corrects itself. What happens when I read an AP health story and it declares "XYZ Cures Cancer!" How would I know it's true? "We're not going to do anything," the editor told me. I'm no Richard Jewell, but I have a real problem with that.