By Ashly Moore Sheldon • May 02, 2023
May 3 is Wordsmith Day, a holiday to celebrate all the world's most eloquent weavers of words, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. A good wordsmith creates phrases and passages that make us want to reread them just for the pleasure. We savor them, drink them in, like fine wine. We read them aloud to our friends and family, the way we might share a favorite song. Here are some books that celebrate the power of words and the craft of using them well.
The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
Drawing from languages around the world, linguistics professor John McWhorter explores the evolution of language, a living, dynamic entity that adapts itself to an ever-changing human environment. Full of humor and imaginative insight, this comprehensive history shows how languages mix and mutate over time.
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
With wit and irreverence, lexicographer Kory Stamper's endlessly entertaining look at the complexities and eccentricities of the English language is filled with her stories from the linguistic front lines, along with fun facts. For example, the first documented usage of "OMG" was in a letter to Winston Churchill.
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
Inspired by his popular blog, this book by Mark Forsyth untangles the strange connections between words. It's an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language.
Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
Perfect for diehard fans of The Bard, this beautifully illustrated volume offers comprehensive definitions for the lesser-known terms from his plays. Father-and-son coauthors David Crystal and Ben Crystal include insights into Shakespearean times and topics from clothes and armor to music and recreation.
There's a Word for It: A Grandiloquent Guide to Life
Do you ever suffer from matutolypea (getting up on the wrong side of the bed)? Maybe you've had the unpleasant experience of getting cornered by a philodox (someone in love with his own opinions). Language connoisseur Charles Harrington Elster presents a treasure trove of extraordinary words.
Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way
With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson explores the remarkable history, resilience, and sheer fun of the English language. He takes readers on a tour of the language, along with the many curious eccentricities that make it as maddening to learn as it is flexible to use.
The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
Language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution. With deft use of humor and wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved.
On Writing: A Memoir of Craft
Part memoir, part master class, Stephen King's revealing and practical view of the writer's craft will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer.
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
This volume, which grew out of a course William Zinsser taught at Yale, has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity, and for the warmth of its style. Nearly 50 years after its original publication and with more than 1.5 million copies in print, it remains an essential tool for anyone who wants to write.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott's whimsical anecdotes about single parenting, recovery, faith, and family will leave you alternately weeping and howling with laughter. And for writers, this lovely little set of pep talks runs the gamut of occupational obstacles, from the technical to the emotional.
The Elements of Style
This quintessential style manual offers practical advice on improving writing skills. Throughout, the emphasis is on promoting a plain English style. Originally published by William Strunk Jr. in 1918 and expanded by E. B. White in 1959, "Strunk and White" is still considered the gold standard.
Writing Down the Bones
With insight, humor, and practicality, Natalie Goldberg inspires writers and would-be writers to take the leap into writing skillfully and creatively. The author's advice, provided in short, easy-to-read chapters, will inspire anyone who writes—or who longs to.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
This bestseller combines boisterous history with grammar basics to show how important punctuation is in our world—period. Former editor Lynne Truss shows how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and the hilarious consequences of punctuation gone awry.
Do you identify as a word nerd, a storyteller, an orator, or a writer? Then these are the books for you. As always, we'd love to hear if you have any suggestions to add to the list.