A Review of The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler

 There is certainly no reason to accept the dumbing down of our society and Bowler tears up the cobblestones to form a barricade in what is
very likely a losing battle. This is a book worth treasuring by all who love the language with all its twists and turns and peculiarities. That any
reader would embrace all of the writer’s insistences seems unlikely but the whole book is by a person who cares and knows what English can do.
Reviewed by Bob Williams

The Superior Person’s Book of Words
by Peter Bowler
Bloomsbury 2002 (first published in 1985 by David R. Godine)
166 pages ISBN 0 7475 5337 8, £8.99

This is the ideal book in that it is both short and funny. The underlying premise is that the use of obscure words is desirable as an end in itself but the true fixation of the writer is with the witchery and wonder of words and how they can be played with.

A casual purchaser might be tempted to buy the book and use it solely for reference but this would be to miss the fun of reading the book
from Abecedarian to Zzxjoanw (a Maori drum). To use it as a dictionary would lose the delicate flavor of its nonsensically apt cross-references.

Definitions and examples are wildly off-the-wall and the whole is imbued with an idiosyncratic flavor. Here is one definition in its entirety:

Peen n. The wedge-shaped or thin end of a hammer head. A ridiculous word. (see also garb.)

As one reads a figure of the author emerges. He does not care much for his sister or his younger brothers. He dislikes pipe smokers and the
music of Scott Joplin and is willing to tease his mother. He sometimes takes wing on curious flights:

Qualm n. A sudden uneasiness, generally about some action or proposed
action of one’s own. Less intellectual and more intuitive than a scruple (q.v.) or a misgiving. In modern parlance, the degree of uneasiness is
only moderate, but formerly the use of the term implied nausea or even pain. The present meaning lies rather beautifully midway between those of queasy and calm, but the apparently hybrid spelling is purely fortuitous and has nothing to do with either word. Normally one has
qualms rather than a qualm. – I must confess to having some qualms about our new advertising slogan, Fosdyke. But in such a case, exactly how many qualms does the speaker have? The author believes that he has the answer to this. He has always seen a qualm as being a small, round, jellylike object about five centimeters in diameter – i.e., apocket-sized object. The number of qualms normally held about anything would therefore equate to the number of pockets in a man’s suit; that is, about half a dozen. This theory also fits the observed fact that women generally have fewer qualms than men.

His dislike of pedantry is sharply expressed:

Paradigm n. Model, pattern, or example. A pretentious and unnecessary
word, normally found only in psychology theses. Never use this word yourself, but be prepared, when it is used by another, to lean forward
intently, narrow your eyes, and say, “Just a moment” do you really MEAN “paradigm” in THAT context?” When, somewhat bemused, he avers that he does, you merely raise your eyebrows and remain silent. With any luck at
all, he will now have forgotten what he was going to say. Apply the same technique when confronted with parameter, infrastructure, structure, or matrix (q.v.).

The drawings in this edition are by Roderick Mills. One must look very closely for this information. His modesty is appropriate. Bowler
absolves himself of the burden of providing pronunciations, a service that would have been useful.

There is certainly no reason to accept the dumbing down of our society and Bowler tears up the cobblestones to form a barricade in what is
very likely a losing battle. This is a book worth treasuring by all who love the language with all its twists and turns and peculiarities. That any
reader would embrace all of the writer’s insistences seems unlikely but the whole book is by a person who cares and knows what English can do.

For more information on The Superior Person’s Book of Words, visit: The Superior Person’s Book of Words

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at:
http://fracman.home.mchsi.com/

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