Review of The Word Spy (Australia)
This neat little hardback with its plentiful illustrations is an invaluable primer on the English language. While children's author Ursula Dubosarsky uses a deft and light tone, the content itself is certainly not dumbed down. In the chapter on malapropisms, for example, Dubosarsky explains that a malapropism is an eponym, based in this case on Richard Sheridan's Mrs Malaprop. Dubosarsky then gives us some fine examples of the exponents of malapropisms, including Sally Brown from Peanuts - the cave men were attacked by a huge thesaurus; the babies in Rugrats - somebody got up on the wrong side of the bread; Dorrie Evans from Number 96 - pardon me for protruding; and Kath and Kim - I don't want to be rich, I want to be effluent.
The origins of the alphabet and punctuation; word games and word plays, puns, homophones, mondegreens, pangrams and palindromes, spoonerisms and euphemisms, are just a taste of the book's content. Throughout, Dubosarsky stresses the organic nature of language, devoting a final chapter to the inventiveness of texting and the strange but true world of smilies - signs made from punctuation marks to denote emotions - and LOL (laugh out loud), the evolving internet slang language.
The Word Spy is a marvellous exploration of the nuances and richness of English and will make a valuable addition to any child's library.
Published in The Age on March 29, 2008.