Favorite Word Books

Infinitely more varied than the writer’s two standard reference works – the dictionary and the thesaurus – are so-called word books, which include …

        • Grammar or style manuals  All (or most) of what you need to know about parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, and so on
        • Word or phrase origin explicators  Where the heck did terms like scuttlebutt and clean your clock come from?
        • Confusion clearer-uppers  The fine-point difference between continually and continuously, further and farther, and other closely related verbal kin
        • Language histories  In general, how over the centuries we came to say what we say and write what we write

Most professional writers and editors have their best-loved word books, and so do many people who are simply interested in language. My favorites include four classic guides, an old six-volume English dialect dictionary, and five books that made a splash in the past two decades – and all are found in the menu at left.