“The Word Exchange” by Alena Graedon

the-word-exchangeI read this intelligent, suspenseful, and captivating novel a few months ago, and have been trying to figure out how to review it, and do it justice, ever since.  I’m still not sure.  I loved it, but it was almost, and I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but it really was almost too smart.  Too clean.  Too perfect.  Without reservation, I would recommend it highly to anyone.  But it’s intimidating.

The story was good.  The characters well developed and compelling.  But my favorite part was the words.  The book is a word-lover’s delight.  I started keeping track, but then stopped keeping track, because there were just too many.  But before I stopped, my list looked like this:

word exchange listNot the best picture, and my handwriting is admittedly atrocious, but check out some of those bad boys:

atavism- a :  recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination b :  recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity

fulminous- of, relating to, or resembling thunder and lightning

jeremiad- a long, mournful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes (bet I could use that one in a sentence without too much strain).

ziggurat- (in ancient Mesopotamia) a rectangular stepped tower, sometimes surmounted by a temple. Ziggurats are first attested in the late 3rd millennium BC and probably inspired the biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9). (hope to never have occasion or need to use this one in a sentence)

insalubrious- (especially of a climate or locality) not salubrious; unhealthy.

And countless others: mellifluous, phlegmatism, logomachy (an argument about words), thaumaturgic, cynosure, ribald, and more, more, more.

The story itself had some very fascinating insights into the impact of technology on language and kind of an extreme view on the potential implications of modern trends towards descriptivist approaches to grammar, word use, and meaning.  And there was a new language that was hard to understand and must have taken remarkable efforts to contrive.  It’s hard to even describe.  Science fiction, ultra-modern, but also literary.  Unique.  A great book, but not easy.  Could not recommend it more highly, though, to my smart reader friends.



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