Say, have you ever wondered how language columnists
come up with the answers to all those puzzling questions we receive?

Have you been assuming that we spend our days frequenting colorful waterfront taverns, soaking up nautical lingo like bespectacled sponges, or that we while away our afternoons loitering on streetcorners, hoping to overhear the latest nugget of teen slang? Do you picture us sweating out the lobster shift as short-order cooks to plumb the depths of diner jargon? Haunting hardware stores in our desperate longing to snag some bits of plumbers' vernacular?

Whaddayou, nuts?

Don't be silly. To paraphrase the Wizard of Oz (the patron saint of the mail-order etymology racket, by the way), what the language columnist has that you don't have is ... books.

Well, actually, some of us have offices and secretaries and Nexis accounts and even research assistants, but most of us just have books.

That's right, books, and lots of them. Books in the study, books in the bedroom, books in the kitchen sink (we eat out a lot). Books upon books upon books, great tottering stacks of books, so many books that the cat has to climb two encyclopedias and a three-foot stack of unopened mail (oops) just to take a simple nap. Books. Books. Books. Yessiree, books.

But not just any books. Word books. Books about word origins, usage and grammar. Dictionaries, both general and etymological. Glossaries of trade jargon and underworld cant, sports lingo and cliches, slang of all ages and half a dozen continents.

Finding such books, however, often requires both dogged persistence and a good deal of luck. Even most large bookstores carry only general purpose dictionaries and, at most, a smattering of grammar and word origins books.

But now, The Word Detective, in association with, is making available a selection of the best language reference books in the world. is one of the Internet's premier online bookstores, with an inventory of over one million books. I have ordered several books from Amazon myself recently, and have been very satisfied. Their catalog is impressively broad, the ordering process is very easy, and most current books are sold at a 10% discount. A variety of shipping methods are available, including FedEx next day air. Best of all, carries a wide variety of language books, some of which are very hard to find elsewhere.

Here's how it works: click on any one of the book titles on our catalog page and you will be instantly (more or less) transported to the book's page at the site, where you'll be able to order the book simply by clicking a button. The easiest way to pay is by credit card, and once your card number is on file at, you need only to give them your account password to order books from then on.

Mandatory full disclosure: The Word Detective receives a small percentage of the cover price of books ordered through this page (somewhere between 3% and 8%, as far as I can figure out). The price you pay is unaffected by this vulgar kickback and, as I noted above, will most likely actually be about 10% less than you'd pay elsewhere.

If you've ever wished that you could, in some small way, help to support the vital work of
The Word Detective (Of course you have. It keeps you awake at night, doesn't it? I thought so.), here's your chance.

But in order for The Word Detective to receive its cut, you must order your books through our page. You can go traipsing around the site to your heart's content, gawking at all the neat books as long as you like. But please come back here and click on the book's title before you order any of the books we list. The reason for this is that our catalog page sends a special code to the site that lets them know that we should get our commission.

Incidentally, some books in our catalog are designated as "Special Order" items at, meaning that they may take a little longer to ship. The Word Detective receives no (zero, zippo, nada) commission on Special Order items. So why are they in our catalog? Because they looked interesting, and we like you, and we're just that kind of bookstore. Makes you want to just up and send us money, doesn't it?

Please keep in mind that all inquiries regarding the status of your order or other questions should be addressed to, not to us. In fact, the President of has a special message on the subject for you right here.

OK, OK, I get it. Take me to the books.
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