Note this post well, Anne Mehrling [one of my original gang of Short Listers who also loves words and the use of them].
No, I don’t recommend Steve Hilton’s book, More Human, all the rage at the moment among reviewers, politicians . . . and pseudo-intellectuals one and all — and which I wrote about recently. It says no more than what Ernst Schumacher wrote about in Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as though People Mattered and published in 1973. The only fault with the latter — even though Wikipedia rates it as one of the most influential books of the 20th century is that dear old Ernst tended to drift off into Buddhism too much.
Mind you, it suited me at the time, and Buddhism and all sorts of other Eastern religions like Suffism and Ouspenskyism and Subud (hardly heard of now but one of the weirdest) were all very fashionable then. (The weirdest religions of them all — Scientology and Transcendental Meditation — commercial rip-offs both — were yet to come.) (And just in case I’ve given the impression that I consider Buddhism weird, I don’t. The only fault with Buddhism is that it induces fatalism among its adherents — that is, originally people of the agrarian era whose lives were nothing but hard work, misery and suffering and always at the mercy of the local landowner and his rent collectors.)
I even had a residual fondness for Buddhism when I visited the Monkey Temple in Nepal some 15 years ago. There I was, a tourist minding my own business as I gazed with some wonderment on the meditations of the monks there, to be roughly shouldered aside by a hob-nailed boot-clad young monk of rugger-player proportions who’d obviously arrived late. I’m rather more Hindu inclined these days, finding the ancient Veda texts and poetry still wonderful and still as insightful as the latest cosmological theories of modern science.
But I’m drifting from my own text. No, Steve Hilton’s More Human is only more readable these days than Schumacher’s book because his scriptwriters (which I presume they are — co-authors Scott Bade and Jason Bade — mentioned briefly on the the inside title page but not appearing on the cover) have prevailed on Hilton to fill the book lavishly with human interest stories in typical American journalese fashion. It still doesn’t alter the fact that Hilton has stumbled on a few of the things that evolutionary biologists have been discovering in profusion about human nature in the last 50 years or so — but without any indication that he has ever read much about their work at source.
Never mind. But Paul Anthony Jones’ book, Word Drops, I most thoroughly recommend. Prompted by an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph of the book being sold at £14.99, I went to Amazon and bought it at £4.84. Word Drops is a treasury of information about words for those who like the things and, like me, try to exercise some respect in using them. Try this — one of many hundreds — for size: “Talking in your sleep is called somniloquency.” Or this: “A translation was originally the removal and transferral of a saint from one place to another.”
Or this: “The insulating cardboard sleeve placed around a paper cup of coffee is called a zarf. [Zarf is the Arabic word for ‘vessel’, which was adopted into English via Egypt in the early nineteenth century. Strictly speaking a zarf should actually be an ornamental metal holder — essentially a handle and saucer combined — that supports a hot cup without it burning your hand.]”
Or this (the last entry in the book): An armoury is a group of aardvarks.” That’s enough of a plug to tempt Anne, or anybody else who likes words, into buying Words Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities. On the back cover it says “An addictive treasure trove for wordsmiths and lovers of language.” I’ll say no more.