An old joke goes like this: What’s the difference between a good girl and a nice girl? Answer: The good girl goes to a party, goes home then goes to bed, whereas the nice girl goes to the party, goes to bed, then goes home. The distinction made between the two types of young ladies would probably have been appreciated by Shakespeare. While we think of “nice” nowadays as being a synonym for pleasant it wasn’t always so; originally the word’s meaning conveyed the naughtiness implied in the joke. It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that this word conveyed the sense of pleasantness that we now associate with the word. In his book How Happy Became Homosexual, and Other Mysterious Semantic Shifts, Richler educates and entertains us while explaining how words such as “nice” and “gay” have changed meanings. Surprisingly, we discover that even many of our nouns and verbs have been in a constant state of flux. For example, originally “jeopardy” was a term used in chess and “to fizzle” meant “to break wind silently.” This morphing of meanings is ever-present, and Richler explains how, even in the last twenty years or so, words such as “fulsome” are in the midst of a reversal of meaning. So whether you are gay (happy), gay (homosexual) or a melancholy heterosexual, Richler will lead you into a word-world of entertaining change.
If some word-thug presents you with the fulsome arguments insisting that only the "original" meaning of a particular word is correct, this book will be just the thing to help you decimate thateir stancearguments. Language columnist Howard Richler (Strange Bedfellows) presents the curious histories of more than 400 well-known words whose meanings have shifted quite a bit since they first appeared in English. The one-paragraph expositions are grouped into a dozen thematic chapters covering such things as religious, agricultural, military, and legal origins, words that have come to mean things much better or worse, and some general sets of verbs, nouns, and adjectives. The readerYou will find some word-thug favorites here, such as decimate, fulsome, enormity, and hopefully, along with old friends with unexpected pasts such as thing, nice, and silly, and many other surprises for words such as cunning, dollop, loophole, paraphernalia, and thug. Richler sometimes omits the "why" in his recounting of the "what," and occasionally misses the mark a little, as in his characterization of the use of "trivial" by mathematicians, but if you care about words and language you will be very glad to add this book to your magazine (in the old sense of magazine, of course). Distribution: Small Press Distribution, Baker & Taylor and Ingram.