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Sweet talk

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  February 12, 2007 01:44 PM

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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."


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