23 October 2020

Review: Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler

Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Sue Butler is a lexicographer and some of you might remember my review of The Aitch Factor - Adventures in Australian English back in 2015. Much has changed since then. Sue Butler was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2018 and is better able to share her views on the English language now that she's no longer constrained by her position as Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary. The astute among you will also notice a name change from Susan to Sue.

Butler's observations are as keen as ever and early on in her new - and cleverly titled - book Rebel Without A Clause, she shares her hopes with the reader as follows:
"...however, I would hope that my swings from tolerant to outraged are measured and balanced. Otherwise I will have become that creature of strident language purity, the pedant." Page 4
Trust me, Sue Butler is in no danger of becoming a pedant, and in fact is far more tolerant than I am about many of the topics she explores.

There are a tonne of words and phrases that make me cringe and shiver, but I was surprised to read that Sue Butler is no longer bothered by the word 'agreeance'. Just typing it and seeing the red squigly line shouting 'this word is wrong' makes me clench my teeth. According to Butler, an agreement is a piece of paper whilst being in agreeance and reaching agreeance is a state of mind. Tell you what though, I'll never be in agreeance that this is a word. We should stick to agreement having two meanings, just as declaration does.

Butler quickly moves on to the shift from saying 'bored with' to 'bored of', possibly because we say we're 'tired of' something. When I hear someone saying 'bored of' it really rankles and I have no idea why. Funny isn't it?

Rebel Without A Clause is full of tidbits like this you'll want to discuss with others, so I don't recommend reading this when everyone else is asleep. Do you pronounce bruschetta as bru-shet-ta or brus-ket-ta? See what I mean?

On page 138, I learned that the plural of cactus isn't cacti. Butler makes the point that the word cactus was borrowed by the Romans from Greek, so the plural should really be cactapodes. But I can't see anyone changing, can you?

I loved the chapter on Inventing New Words, (like babelicious) and a new word I was thrilled to learn about was xenofiction.
"Xenofiction adds the prefix xeno- meaning 'foreign' to fiction to create a new genre of science fiction in which the alien or mystical beast is telling the story from their point of view." Page 145
How cool is that? I must keep an eye out for this word in the wild.

My only problem with this perfectly titled, beautiful little hardback book about words and language is the poor quality of the paper. The quality of the pages the text is printed on seems completely out of sync with the striking cover design, and there's quite a lot of bleed through of ink from page to page from the chapter headings. I did find myself wondering whether this was the result of COVID interrupting the usual book production process, but nevertheless, it was a slight let down. I can certainly imagine this will be a wonderful little stocking stuffer this Christmas.

Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler is full of surprising, amusing, entertaining and informative moments and I thoroughly enjoyed the short, sharp chapters on a variety of topics, words, phrases and linguistic tangles.

Enjoy it for yourself and check out a FREE EXCERPT.

Highly Recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.



My Rating:


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  1. This sounds like an interesting book. I’m always using the wrong word or making up words.

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    1. Thanks Veronica, you read so much I'm sure you make up some terrific words indeed!

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  2. Great review Tracey, I too enjoyed this quite a lot. I didn’t really notice the paper quality to be honest.

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one too Shelleyrae :-)

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