A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja

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A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja

Category: Reference
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: This does what it says on the tin, but you have to open the tin to find the contents are out of date, and perhaps not the flavour you hoped for.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
ISBN: 978-0709089568

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Take a look at the cover design of this book, and you'd be mistaken for thinking this was a trivia compendium for all those foreign words that have taken part in our English language since whenever they crossed over from their original homes. But the title is definitely honest, for this is a dictionary book first, for reference, and a browser for the trivia buff second.

It's when I read the credits page that my eyebrows were first raised, when I discovered this was first published in 1989. I have no quibble with age, but it's awkward for this title's sake that there are too many contemporary references in the notes, that have definitely seen better days. I don't know how many people drop the word campesino into their everyday speech, but here it's referred to alongside Ollie North and his Nicaraguan dealings. I have no idea who Mary Lou Retton or Gary Hart may be. The fellaheen are still fighting Communists, partly because glasnost still has to be a proven concept.

I noticed a couple of other hiccups, as well. Cognoscenti is here only in the g-less spelling. Jus primae noctis I am sure is more well-known in the French than the Latin. Almost everything with a Spanish concern is dealt with as pertaining to Mexicans, not Europeans. The other large hurdle for me was the examples of usage. De rigueur could have been fitted into something much more likely than a three sentence dialogue about Steven's private cinema screenings.

But having said all that, this book is on the whole accurate, comprehensive - both going over old ground and correcting some misconceptions I had, and introducing me to many phrases from Latin, Greek, Yiddish and more languages that I had never known, and a very worthwhile entry to one's reference shelves.

The final third is where things get more enjoyable for the quiz setter, or trivia browser. After the A-Z dictionary format of the main corpus, we have all those French ballet terms in one block, the Latin classical music notations in another, all the copious put-down words from Yiddish in one handy section. This goes further to appease my opinions of the book as a whole with modern language assistance - basic phrases in several world tongues, toasts from other countries, and a nice selection of global phrases. These can be literal - love is blind is the same in Spanish as English, but the Russians don't make mountains out of molehills, they have elephants out of flies.

If you are building a reference shelf for yourself, this is worth considering, but I can't get past the age and awkwardness of several of the entries. You might also seek, if you've experience of them, the standard pronunciation symbols used elsewhere, as opposed to the one attempted here. For me, I shall rely on my well-used method of pencil and paper, and a check online the following day. This book will do for many, but that does just as well for me.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't "adoxographi, or a shmatta, and I'm not really shouting caveat emptor, but I'm not recommending it as sine qua non as regards such books.

I must thank Hale's kind people for my review copy.

The trivia, fun side of such a book has not been bettered since Toujours Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod first came out.

Buy A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja at Amazon.com.


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Joel Mielke said:

A useful resource, with droll bits of wisdom thrown in. I refer to it often, and browse for inspiration.