Thursday 20 May 2010

Book review : Wordwatching - Alex Horne

When I read the blurb on the back cover, I wasn't sure how entertaining this book was going to be. "Alex Horne loves words. He loves them so much, in fact, that he's decided to invent his own and get them into the dictionary. But, as Alex discovers, gaining entry into the official lexicon takes more than just a gentle word in the ear of the editor. Evidence is required - Alex needs proof that his words are being spoken by more people than just him and his mum. He needs what the dictionary authorities call a 'corpus' of examples, hard data showing that his new words are in widespread and long-term usage. So a corpus he resolves to create, no matter what obstacles he might meet on the way."

Well, I had visions of a nerdy bookish-type in a handknitted sleeveless jumper with a plummy Gyles Brandreth voice ! I needn't have worried. Alex Horne is about as far removed from Gyles Brandreth as you could get - although they do both have an unhealthy liking for Countdown !

It seems that Alex has limitless imagination and comes up with some very childish but nevertheless hilarious ways of getting his words into everyday usage. Repetitive graffiti in motorway service station toilets (but he does come back and clean up on his next trip !). Can he stoop any lower ? You bet ! Infiltrating teenage chatrooms on internet ? Oooh I bet the powers that be are flagging up his IP address as I type so they can keep an eye on him ! Using his made-up words in primary school worksheets in his teacher friend's classes ! How low (or should that be how bollo ?) can you go ?!

Even funnier is when his plans fail miserably. Like a naughty puppy, he hangs his head in shame and reveals (with a cheeky grin) that he got a smack on the wrists from the people at Wikipedia for replacing words in articles with his own words !

If you are a cunning linguist (ho ho !), you will enjoy the fairly serious research that Alex has done on the origins of certain words and the way that new words and false rumours can become widely accepted by the public. I say fairly serious because he openly admits that he has, in fact, totally made up one of his etymological explanations but, with that naughty puppy look combined with a cheeky grin again, informs us he won't tell us which one !

The big attraction is in watching someone pull off juvenile pranks and ludicrous ploys in an attempt to successfully achieve a fairly silly goal. Alex frequently reminded me of Danny Wallace, who comes up with equally ridiculous but funny missions for himself. The blurb on the back of the book actually quotes Scotsman as calling Alex "a sort of Dave Gorman of the intellect" - Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace were flatmates and went on a shared mission to locate 54 other people named Dave Gorman around the world ("one for every card in the deck, including the jokers") ! If Alex Horne, Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace got together, they'd probably go mad trying to outdo each in the silliness stakes but the result would be fantastically funny !

You might be interested to know that Alex Horne has a new mission on the go now - a quest to become the oldest man in the world ! You'll have to wait until about 2121 to find out if he's managed, if you can make it that far, but you can follow his progress on his blog !

If Wordwatching is anything to go by, I'm sure he'll pull it off - just maybe not in the way you'd imagine !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £11.99

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Virgin Books (14 Jan 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1905264615
ISBN-13: 978-1905264612

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