Last Word, The

Cultural Studies

The Last Word

  • Author/Editor: Laurence Urdang
  • Binding: Library binding
  • Trim Size: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 281
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • ISBN: 978-0-9798648-0-3
  • List Price: $30.00
  • Sample Pages
  • Printable Information Sheet

Web Price: $27.00

Noted lexicographer Laurence Urdang has written The Last Word, his reflections on the current state of the English language. A respected scholar, Urdang has written or edited more than 60 books, including dictionaries, thesauruses, and books on language and usage, and produced scores of papers, articles, and book reviews. He has written and edited many major reference works, including the first edition of The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1966), The Random House College Dictionary (1968), The Oxford Thesaurus (British Edition, 1991, 1997; American Edition, 1992), and many others. In 1974, he founded Verbatim, The Language Quarterly and later established Verbatim Books, devoted to the publication of books on language.

In The Last Word, Urdang articulates his view of the state of English today. Sometimes witty and erudite, sometimes caustic and contentious, he covers a broad range of topics, including Language Change and Political, Social, and Grammatical Correctness; Word Origins ; Meaning: Denotation, Connotation, and Ambiguity; Words and Expressions: Curiosities and Trivia, Word Chaos, and The Wrong Word; Language and Culture; Nicknames and Names as Metaphors; Feminist and Politically Correct Language; Good English / Bad English; Taboo, Slang, Informal, and Colloquial Language; Good and Bad Writing; Good Writers and Bad Writing; Carelessness and Other Bad Habits; Computers; Pronunciation; and many more.

Language lovers everywhere will enjoy this fascinating account of, in Urdang’s words, a life devoted to all aspects of language.

For a more complete understanding of the coverage offered in The Last Word, please see the Sample Pages.

Notes from the Foreword

It is proverbial that the bestselling book in the world is the Bible. I would submit that next in the list is a dictionary. It is not for me to comment on what people do with their Bibles, but I think I know what they do with their dictionaries: they use them as doorstops. In my imagination, every radio and television station has at least one dictionary, whether it be a vestpocket edition or an unabridged; yet, from the continuous palaver emanating from the speakers in my house, it is evident that those books are never consulted, either for spellings, pronunciations, definitions, origins, or usage notes, which most of the larger books contain.

As a professional lexicographer, either directly (from the sheer number and variety of dictionaries I have edited) or vicariously (by virtue of being a member of the profession that has produced all those dictionaries), I can claim to be among the bestselling authors/editors of all time. Yet, I despair, for I am only too well aware that while the Bible might be read (if not followed), the information in dictionaries is not even read, and publishers might do well to publish them with blank pages and supply printed copies only to those few who, discovering a “defective” copy, might complain.

I wrote this book because over the years I found many things in the course of my very wide reading that I wanted to bring to the attention of readers unfamiliar with them, things that I found beguiling and rewarding and which I had never seen anybody refer to or so much as mention. A great resource were the British periodicals of the 19th century, which I read avidly, cover to cover, making notes as I went along. Many of those notes are here as quotations.

I have learned from my associations with acquaintances and friends, correspondents and colleagues that they find many aspects of language interesting—up to a point. It must be said that the study of linguistics can be formidable, and my goal was to provide those who like the subject of language in a casual, dilettante fashion to find enough here to engage or satisfy their interest. On some subjects, I have probably written too little; on others, too much. It was impossible to anticipate the range of interests of prospective readers, and, if I included matter that is not gripping, it is likely that I did so because if it hadn’t been there, somebody might have criticized me for omitting it. I also wanted, at least in a cursory fashion, to document a life devoted to all aspects of language.

I hope that this book may attract some to pursue an interest in language by introducing them to areas within its study that are not immediately or superficially apparent.

By Laurence Urdang
Old Lyme, Connecticut


"The essays and short commentaries in this volume offer an informed observer's views on the state of language and writing. ... The essays are idiosyncratic and variable: some are informative, some entertaining, some mildly cranky. ... This book will be a treat for language mavens. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and graduate students, but especially general readers and professionals."

—Choice, July '08

"Wry and witty observations about the state of contemporary English are provided by noted scholar and lexicographer Laurence Urdang in The Last Word. ... Throughout the work are many examples of bad language that language aficionados will appreciate. The Last Word will be of use to students, researchers, and anyone who enjoys words and their use."

—American Reference Books Annual, 2009

"At once caustic and humorous, the author provides observations on language as a force in culture, as well as serious advice on clarity and precision in writing. The book is every bit as entertaining as it is instructive."

—Reference & Research Book News, May '08

"[Urdang] is the Simon Cowell of literary critics, just the sort of person you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a long plane flight. ... This book is filled with as much smart advice as acid criticism. It’s just the sort of book that could do you a great deal of good if you read it on that long flight. Anyone who is a serious writer should get a copy of The Last Word and keep it around to read and re-read. It’s worth the time and will help improve your language skills."

—Baton Rouge Advocate, Mar '08