America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America by Allan Metcalf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A book for word nerds if there ever was one! America in So Many Words is a marvelous diversion for those who love both history and language. It examines particularly American words and phrases from the colonies’ founding up through 1998, explaining a bit of etymology, usage, and sometimes an example of it in original writing. It is extensively researched and just downright delightful. It even features two appendices, one organized by year and one by word.(Ex. 1998’s word is “millennium bug,” even though it probably should have been the much-catchier “Y2K bug.” But it had enough foresight to explain the term two years early!)
I’m marking this book as “read” even though it’s actually a work-in-progress. It’s just not a book you’re going to sit down and read straight through in one sitting. It reads like a cross between an encyclopedia and a dictionary, except you’ve probably never chuckled or said “ah ha!” from either one as much as you will with this book. I’m keeping it in my bathroom, to be honest, because one to two entries provide more diversion than any magazine could, with the added bonus of making that time educational and productive.
Though you may prefer to put it on your desk, I do recommend American language-lovers at least page through it. It’s been my go-to source for watercooler conversation and “did you know” questions. If you even think you may be intrigued by the true origins of “hot dog” or the critical place the phrase “log cabin” has in the American presidency, you’ll need this book in your collection.