Book of the Month
A Browser's Dictionary of Interjections

Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Authors: Mark Dunn (with cartoons by S. Aragones)
ISBN 0 312 33080 4


Archimedes did it, Alice in Wonderland did it, and you and I have done it. Of course, our interjections have probably been less memorable than Archimedes' 'Eureka!' or even Alice's 'stuff and nonsense!', but they are an essential part of everyday conversation. But are interjections a serious enough subject for a book? Well, the book lists over five hundred of them, and with so many peppering our language they must be filling some function. In fact the book lists no less than eight classes of interjection, from dad's 'Oh Sugar!' when he hits his thumb with a hammer (a lot of interjections are last-moment changes from more offensive versions) to his daughter's 'whatever' when she is told her room is a mess. For the student of English a knowledge of interjections is useful, for example in understanding that 'oh boo-hoo' does not indicate sympathy, and 'how do you do?' is not an invitation to say how one is doing.

While it would have been useful if the book could have been arranged into categories such as 'greetings' 'null words' ('well, actually, as a matter of fact') and emotional responses ('there, there'), in fact the author has settled for a straight alphabetical list from 'aaaayyy' - meaning 'I'm here, what's up?' to 'zut alors' - which is an affected way of expressing frustration and disappointment (unless one is French, in which case there is no affectation.) There is a brief introduction, in which the author explains the purpose of the book and the categories he is not going to put his interjections into, and a discussion of what an interjection is. Are greetings actually interjections? The list continues for over 200 pages, and finishes with a useful index.
There are a number of black-and-white cartoons which do a good job of humorously illustrating some interjections, such as the man crawling through a desert who says 'shoo!' to the vulture perched upon his back. Also the writing is light and humorous, though there is evidently considerable research behind some of the more obscure interjections. 'Zounds!' if you wish to know, is a contraction of 'Christ's wounds', and is today used to express good-humoured frustration. There are however a number of expressions listed here which are not used in modern English, but even these might be useful to those reading, for example, early twentieth century fiction.

Who is this book for? Anyone with an interest in language will find something intriguing and entertaining here, and the short entries make this a useful book to dip into. Likewise the book deserves a place on an EFL library's shelves as a student puzzled by the rich diversity of English interjections will find this a useful guide. As ever with colloquial language, this book is better for understanding than production of language. There are not many situations in which one can legitimately say 'gadzooks!', but it's useful to understand the phrase when someone else comes out with it.

Verdict: Interesting but not essential
Assessment 7/10
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