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Hanging Noodles

Ammon Shea recently spent a year of his life reading the OED from start to finish. Over the next few months he will be posting weekly blogs about the insights, gems, and thoughts on language that came from this experience. His book, Reading the OED, has been published by Perigee, so go check it out in your local bookstore. In the post below Ammon looks at I’m Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears.

I don’t know what the collective noun is for master’s degrees, but I would like to propose that we consider bhalla as a possibility. The reason for this is that I’ve recently had the opportunity to read a delightful book on idioms written by a man named Jag Bhalla, and he has five of them.

This curiously named work, I’m Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears, is an exploration of over 1,000 idioms in ten languages, collected by Bhalla over the course of what must have been extremely extensive travel. This is not an academic work (and I mean that only in the sense that it is not at all boring), but it is enormously educational.

Hanging Noodles
is divided thematically, and the chapter headings were enticing enough to make me immediately want to skip ahead (I think far more writers should follow Bhalla’s example, and use titles such as ‘Give it to someone with cheese’ or ‘Swallowed like a postman’s sock’). Each of these chapters is comprised of an essay on a particular aspect of language, followed by a list of pertinent idioms.

I’ve long thought that books on language and words shared some characteristics with travel books. At their best they have the capacity to be transporting, to make some part of your reading brain feel as though it might be in some other place or time. This book transported me, in the senses that I felt able to travel to other places and also in that I utterly lost several afternoons to reading it. The writing is adroit, the subject fascinating, and the execution impeccable.

The only quibble I have with it is that Bhalla is his habit of being overly deferential to the many other writers whose work he discusses. It’s certainly not the case that I think that David Crystal and Stephen Pinker are undeserving of praise, but too often their names are prefaced panegyrically, which makes Bhalla appear slightly uncertain. He needn’t be – Hanging Noodles is a delightful book, and well worth getting yourself lost in.

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