In the past decade, books about language have been making a play for the Valentine's Day market, and why not? They're the no-calorie, no-wilt, low-priced alternative to you-know-what. Should your sweetheart be receptive to this sort of thing, there are several flavors to choose from.
Just out is Erin McKean's "That's Amore: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language." McKean, a lexicographer and author of "Totally Weird and Wonderful Words," takes her search for language tidbits international this time around. A taste:
Rouler un patin: Finally a great mystery revealed: this phrase is how the French say "to French-kiss"! Literally translated, Je lui ai roulé un patin means "I rolled a skate to him."
Evan Morris, otherwise known as The Word Detective, sticks with English in 2004's "Making Whoopee: Words of Love for Lovers of Words," a collection of etymologies:
When bimbo, which is a shortened form of bambino, Italian for "child" or "baby," first appeared in English around 1919, it originally meant a young person of either gender and, in fact, was most often applied to men. When a gangster spoke of a bimbo in the 1920s, chances were that he was referring to the sort of dim-witted street-corner thug we might today call a wise-guy wanna-be.
Mark Morton, in "The Lover's Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex" (2003), also covers English etymologies, though in more (and racier) detail:
The word hot, too, has been featured in amorous idioms since at least the early 14th century. Shakespeare, for example, uses the word hot as a synonym for lusty. In "Henry IV Part 1," Hal refers to a "hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta," and in "Othello" Iago implies that Desdemona and her supposed lover are "hot as monkeys."
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.