Anu Garg’s A Word A Day mailing list is famous online. It’s the granddaddy of e-mail language lists, having been founded in 1994. It now has more than half a million daily subscribers distributed through just about every country in the world, a figure that makes this writer at once envious and horrified at the implications for managing such vast numbers. His new book is essentially a printed version of rather more than a year of the mailing list. It’s in 55 chapters, each one containing commentary on five words on a theme.
If you are a subscriber (as I have been for years) you will recognise thematic headings such as Toponyms, Gender-specific Nouns, Red-Herring Words, Words that Make One Say “I Didn’t Know There Was a Word for That!”, Coined Words, Words from Medicine, and Words That Contain the Vowels AEIOU Once and Only Once. If you felt strong, you could read an entry every weekday and so make the book last 55 weeks, but I will lay you heavy odds that such self-control is impossible.
Entries are essentially the same as the e-mail versions that went out to subscribers — succinct explanations allied with pronunciations, definitions, and quotations, each set introduced by a paragraph or two. Some of the messages that have come to Anu Garg as the result of mailings are interspersed between entries. This is a browser’s book — if it should end up on a shelf in the smallest room in the house, it’s no worse for that, particularly if your sojourns result in an enlarged vocabulary.
Give it to your nearest word lover as a present. If the recipient already knows A Word A Day, it will be a conveniently portable version of remembered small pleasures; if it is new, then a free online subscription will provide daily additional enjoyment.
[Garg, Anu, A Word A Day; paperback, pp202; ISBN 0-471-23032-4; published by Wiley on 24 October 2002 at US$14.95.]