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Let A Simile Be Your Umbrella    by William Safire order for
Let A Simile Be Your Umbrella
by William Safire
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2001 (2001)

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

I'm not sure which I like better, Safire's On Language columns (he's been writing them for more than 20 years now) or the letters that follow them in these collections. I mean, the columns are great: snappy, usually a tad funny, sometimes grumpy, always nitpicky, little linguistic gems. But some of the more interesting speculation about word derivation and meaning comes from Safire's numerous correspondents; for example 'the cheese fell off his cracker a long time ago,' as a way to describe someone who's a little crazy, comes not from Safire, but from a letter-writer.

In its variety of subjects, this On Language collection is just as good as its predecessors. From 'adultery' (is it a gender-specific word?) to 'zeen' (another word for 'magazine'), these little ditties introduce us to new words, show us new meanings to familiar words, sort out some confusion and cause some new confusion. (It is, of course, a couple of letter-writers who point out that 'zeen' is not the accepted spelling; it's 'zine,' and it comes from 'fanzine,' not from a shortening of 'magazine.' See what I mean?)

The upshot is, if you enjoy Safire's syndicated column, and the books spun off it, you'll have a good time with this one. If you're not a fan ... well, stay away.

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