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Paperback Pickings

Dinky, glam, woopie and guppie

Twentieth Century Words (Oxford, Rs 495) by John Ayto is a wonderfully absorbing and informative book. It tracks language change, particularly new words, in English as written and spoken all over the world through the 20th century. This unique retrospective of the century brings together around 5,000 new words and usages, selected to illustrate the most important and interesting events and changes in the century. The OED and its supplementary volumes record about 90,000 new words, and new meanings of old words, that have come into English in the 20th century. Ayto maps this fascinating evolution by providing lexical growth-areas by the decade. Cars, aviation, radio, film, psychology in the 1900s; media, nuclear power, space, computers and youth culture in the Fifties; computers, media, business, environment, political correctness in the Seventies; politics, media and the internet in the Nineties. This map is then situated in an excellent and eccentric decade-wise chronology (“1912: Titanic sinks. 1913: Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring.”), and individual introductions to each decade, which are models of witty scholarship and historical horse-sense (“In the 1950s, prosperity danced with anxiety.”). There are delightful little sub-plots, like the stories of political correctness (the fate of nigger), linguistic puritanism (the rise of fuck), and the Eighties craze for inventing yuppie-clone lifestyle acronyms (buppie, guppie, Juppie, dinky, glam, woopie).

Katha Prize Stories: Best of the 90s (Katha, Rs 250) is an interesting bunch of short stories translated into English from a number of Indian vernaculars. The preservation of a vernacular tradition from the enervating effect of English for a primarily Indian readership is the intention of the Katha India Library. This collection filters the Indian vernacular narrative tradition through the sensibilities of some contemporary, and eminently marketable, film-makers and an actor. The stories have been chosen and briefly introduced by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Govind Nihalani, Gulzar, Rituparno Ghosh and Sharmila Tagore. Geeta Dharmarajan’s short introduction is somewhat overwritten: “No, languages are not vegetables to be preserved but that’s what a certain hegemony will have us believe, they who shake their heads gloomily, predicting that all Indian languages will die and one will reign supreme, English.” Blurbish excerpts from reviews after each item in the contents make the stories sound like mouth-watering recipes in an Indian cookery book: “...has the down to earth relish of Tamil Nadu.” A laudable project, if it could play down the packaging a bit.


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