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Rosie Right

Our language and how it works.

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Word Play

For those of us who love to work and play with words, there's plenty of company on the Internet and in books. One could make a career in reading books and Web posts by David Crystal. This linguist, an honorary professor at the University of Wales, Bangor, has published or edited more than 60 books, two of them within the past 12 months. He is quite literally an industry in himself and has served as chairman of a technology business, Crystal Reference Systems.

"The Stories of English," published in 2004 and discussed in my column last year, tells the story of the nonstandard English that is spoken by more people than is the English of the British Isles.

In 2006 Crystal published two books, "How Language Works" and "Words, Words, Words." These are to be followed by "The Fight for English," which has a 2007 publication date.

If you're not in the mood for, or don't have time for, books that run to 500 pages, you can find Crystal on the Web at the BBC site (www.bbc.co.uk) that is devoted to helping us understand and speak "proper" English.

Much on this site is elementary and is designed for immigrants to England, but Crystal has a segment that discusses words and phrases that are in the news. Some of these entries are also elementary, but Crystal gives us the origin of the phrases. One of the recent entries is "In your dreams!" "That phrase came in during the 1990s. It meant someone is being unrealistic, very optimistic, very hopeful. Any circumstances in which expectations are raised — in your dreams!"

Or you can go to the lively site Language Log (www.languagelog.com). This consists of brief posts about the use of language and includes a list of other Web sites where you can enjoy a discussion about usage.



Copy Editor Occupational Hazard

Sometimes copy editors get so caught up in details they find themselves forgetting to understand the gist of what they're reading. This happened to me when I read a statement by President Bush. He listed three things and then said, "The latter is …" I can't remember what he was talking about, but I surely recall that when there are more than two things listed, you shouldn't say "the latter." It should be "the last." Perhaps there are times when it's a detriment to worry too much about language details?



Let Rosie hear from you by e-mail (rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com), by tele-phone (358-0825, ext. 322) or by regular mail (c/o Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, VA 23230).



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