Review: Studies in Words

Studies in Words
Studies in Words by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two kinds of people will read this book (and some would think they are one and the same–people like me who love the work of C. S. Lewis and will read anything he wrote, and people who love words and how their meanings develop and change over time.

This is a work of literary scholarship that explores how the meanings and connotations of words have developed and changed over time. Each chapter is devoted to a word, or a few related words and explores their usage through time. Lewis cites numerous instances of the use of these words in literature as well as in everyday speech. The words include “nature”, “sad”, “wit”, “free”, “sense”, “simple”, “conscience and conscious”, “world”, “life” and “I dare say”.

It was fascinating, for example to reflect on the different but connected senses of wit as “intelligence” and “humor”. Likewise, his chapter on “world” explored at length the variety of ways we use this to refer to the world of people, the world as the physical place we live, the world as the cosmos, and the world as an evil system in league with the flesh and the devil. Even his chapter on “I dare say” (which felt tossed into the mix) pointed out how this mild-mannered language which is on the order of “I venture to say” was at once bold, truly a dare.

He makes a perceptive comment on neologisms (new words) with which I will conclude:

“Aspiring neologists will draw the moral. Invent a word if you like. It may be adopted. It may even become popular. But don’t reckon on it retaining the sense you gave it and perhaps explained with great care. Don’t reckon on its being given a sense of the slightest utility. Smart little writers pick up words briskly; but only as a jackdaw picks up beads and glass.” (p. 268)

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.