Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Richard Lederer, "Anguished English. An anthology of Accidental Assaults upon English Language"

– Gibbs Smith 2006

Read from: February 10th to 17th 2014

My rating:

As a teacher, I have stumbled upon linguistic jewels for many years, in my students compositions and tests.  Sometimes I happened to hear them at TV or in the street, or read them in the press.

I intended, just like Richard Lederer, to make someday a book out of them, but I never imagined this book as a mere anthology – at the end of the day, how long can you laugh while reading page after page of jokes? How many spoons of honey can you eat before becoming sick? In other words, the real challenge is to seek a certain approach, either stylistic, philosophic and/ or linguistic, around which to organize the material.

These are my two main complaints regarding Anguished English: the careless organization of the contents (in spite of its chapters and subchapters, which could have been regrouped more efficiently to avoid repetition anyway)  and the hybrid character: it could have been either an anthology or a linguistic study but it’s both and finally neither.

However, it has wonderful potential, as one of the most interesting chapters, The World According to Student Bloopers demonstrates, in which the author combines creativity and a wicked sense of humor to rewrite history blooper way, from Bible times, with its really weird family habits (“Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines”), to Antiquity with its equally strange architectonic features (“The Greek invented three kinds of columns – Corinthian, Ironic and Dork”), passing by Middle Ages, “when everyone was middle aged” and “People contracted the blue bonnet plague, which caused them to grow boobs on their necks”, then stressing that some otherwise famous writers failed the American dream (“Shakespeare never made much money and is famous only because of his plays”), giving some comforting information  (“Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead”) or cleverly explaining some obscure sayings (“The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West”) until finally clarifying the place and spelling and role of some names in modern era  (“Madman Curie discovered Radio and Karl Marx became one of the Marx brothers”).

Unfortunately, the following chapters are only a selection of quotes with no comment whatsoever, and how I would have liked to cogitate a little about how sometimes the omission of a word helps to highlight an universal truth (“Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.”), or how the satisfaction of a work well done exceeds the fear of punishment, like in this driver’s statement: “The pedestrian ran for the pavement, but I got him”, or how the journalists’ love for truth is greater than any political correctness, like in this headline: “CHILD’S DEATH RUINS COUPLE’S HOLIDAY”, or how sometimes you can be cured with the most unexpected remedy  (“Gene Autry is better after being kicked by a horse”)

The last two chapters are more interesting, with their linguistic approach. I didn’t know the term malapropism had another origin (from Richard Sheridan’s character, Mrs. Malaprop) apart from the obvious French one. The examples are funny, too (“Poe’s romance with Mrs. Stanard was purely plutonic”; “His mother got it all on film for prosperity”), and the bienapropisms (malapropisms that “leap across the chasm of absurdity and land on the side of the truth”), another word for eggcorns in my opinion, even better: “I ate in a restaurant where the food was abdominal”; “Apartheid is a pigment of the imagination.”

Overall, a funny book with much potential in becoming really interesting. But it is never too late, isn’t it? After all, people badly need to be reminded there is always someone who can help them, someone like the author of the following generous offer: “Illiterate? Write today for free help!”

And to finish on the cheerful note this book however deserves, here are some other quotes I laughed my head off at.

From students’ papers:

Having one wife is called monotony. When a man has more than one wife he is a pigamist. A man who marries twice commits bigotry.

Zanzibar is noted for its monkeys. The British governor lives there.

Caesar expired with these immortal words upon his lips: “Eat you, Brutus!”

From journals’ headlines:


From ads:

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover.

And last but not least, from translations:

 In a Bucharest hotel lobby: The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

On the faucet of a Finnish washroom: To stop the drip turn cock to right.  


  1. Hilarious! :p This reminds me of another (funny) book on the English language: