Reviewed by Karen Langley
Bodleian Library Publishing is an imprint attached to Oxford University which specialises in bringing out books that share the riches of the Bodley’s wide-ranging collections with readers around the world. To take just a few examples from recent catalogues, they’ve produced some beautifully illustrated works exploring artists and artworks; books which celebrate handwriting and photography; and a gorgeous edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Their publications always make perfect gifts, and an October release from the publisher is a title which would be the ideal present for any booklover – A Date with Language by David Crystal.
Crystal is a writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster on language, as well as being honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University. He’s published a wide variety of works, including two volumes for the Bodleian exploring English vocabulary: We Are Not Amused (2017) and That’s the Ticket for Soup (2020). A Date with Language takes a wide look at our vocabulary in almanac form, and it’s a fascinating book from start to finish.
A Date… contains an entry for every day of the year, each one exploring a different language-related fact, story or event. Taking up a page for each day, the format allows you to enjoy a bite-size experience on a daily basis, learning something new and keeping the brain ticking over. The range here is impressive, drawing inspiration from writers and poets amongst others, and exploring everything from grammar, to how language is used in subjects like science and politics, through the journey from a simple pencil to our modern technological writing aids.
One particularly interesting angle was the number of days which are actually designated for a specific subject or person. We all know about May 4th being deemed Star Wars Day because of a pun on “May the Force be with you”; but less well known may be National Clerihew Day on 10th July, which celebrates the whimsical four line verse, invented by crime author E.C. Bentley, which bears its name. Then there is Yorkshire day on 1st August, which came into being in 1975 as a regional protest; and National Tell a Joke Day on 16th August. The books entries will be wonderful reminders to celebrate and take part in these special days.
There are pages on the heroines of speed-reading, forensic phonetics used to catch serial killers and all manner of authors over the centuries. Births and deaths of notables are celebrated, and special events memorialised. Did you know that 3rd January is Tolkien Day, as this was the day that the author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings was born? Or that in the United States, 26th February is celebrated as “Tell a Fairy Tale Day”? (Apparently nobody knows why, but it’s a nice idea.) Or that on 9th April 1860, the first known recording of an audible human voice was made? And furthermore that Magna Carta was sealed on 15 June 1215? The book is brim full of such fascinating nuggets!
I could go on and on, but it should be clear by now that the word ‘cornucopia’ is an apt one to apply to this book. A Date With Language is a real treat; a book to be to be dipped into, to be savoured and enjoyed over a year, with each entry providing enlightenment and entertainment. If you love to explore language, its facts and stories, this would be the perfect book to read on a daily basis; the pages are short enough to be enjoyed every morning over breakfast, or at the end of the day when winding down, but are long enough to sustain interest, containing some substantial and fascinating facts. And if you don’t cheat by looking ahead, each day brings a surprise!
A Date With Language would also make the perfect gift for anyone who loves words, and it would be one that would last for a whole year. For me, the book will sit on my bedside table so that I can dip into it every morning and find out more fascinating facts. A highly recommended work from an always-interesting publisher!
Karen Langley blogs at kaggsysbookishramblings and loves to be hypnotised by words (www.kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com)
David Crystal, A Date with Language (Bodleian Library Publishing, 2023). 978-1851246113. 400pp., hardback.
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