Book of the Month
Grammar Girl's 101 Words to Sound Smart

Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Author: Mignon Fogarty

ISBN 978-0312573461

Upper Intermediate

If you are an English language student who has not yet met the 'Grammar Girl' then you should. Mignon Fogarty has made a name for herself in podcasts, articles and books as one of the most likeable people to talk about English. She is not some remote professor, but an ordinary person who has a very obvious love of the language. This book is one of her 'Quick and Dirty Tips' series which includes 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in no Time and 101 Misused words You'll Never Confuse Again'. Admittedly, for this series Ms Fogarty might do better to introduce herself as 'Vocabulary Girl' because there is no actual grammar discussed here. Nevertheless the 101 words are indeed a useful set - not so much because you might want to use them as because other people do, for example in newspaper articles and TV interviews, so they are definitely worth knowing.

This is a slim book of 120 pages. It would be even slimmer if many pages did not have line drawings which fill a lot of the space. The pictures usually do a good job of demonstrating the meaning of the word, though you might wonder why aardvarks usually do the demonstrating. (It's because the podcasts and articles usually give 'Aardvark' and 'Squiggly' as their exemplars. For example 'Aardvark asked Squiggly to explain a synecdoche.') The book begins with a short introduction in which the author explains - in typical prose - that sometimes a 'five-dollar word' is much superior to a more common and shorter one. And this is true, because some of the less common English words do contain meaning that you would otherwise need a sentence to explain.
The choice of words is good. Anyone who uses English regularly will have encountered many of the words, but they are still obscure enough for the average English person to be unsure of how to use them. This explanation is given in the text, and in clear, slightly colloquial English in which the writer manages to sound friendly without being patronizing. We go from 'Abjure' (word #1) all the way to 'Zeitgeist' (word #101) and on the way we learn the difference between things like 'flotsam' and 'jetsam'. Both are rubbish that one finds bobbing about in the ocean, but flotsam just happens to be floating there, while jetsam was deliberately thrown into the water (which as the book explains, is where 'jettison' comes from). As well as the usage and definition of each word, we also get an explanation of its origin and a quote from a journal or a famous author showing the word in use.

Who is this book for? Well, the book is exactly what the title says. You can use the 101 words to sound smart, but if you really are smart,then words like this will find their way into your vocabulary anyway, and if you are not smart no amount of 'five-dollar words' will fool people for long. So a better use of this book is by people who want to know what smart people are talking about. And the words are fun ones to know. They will certainly impress a teacher or an examiner if they are used correctly in conversation or an essay. Six dollars is a lot to pay for 101 words, but you will certainly count it as money well-spent if for example, you afterwards know enough to avoid a 'louche' restaurant or bar.

Verdict: As the title says
Assessment 7/10
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