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Picks and Pans Review: American Tongue and Cheek

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by Jim Quinn

Quinn, a self-proclaimed “poet, satirist and food columnist,” has the temerity to attack those self-designated guardians of our language, Edwin Newman, John Simon and William Satire. Quinn operates by quoting passages from Shakespeare, Defoe, Dickens, Bronte, Swift, Hardy and other literary immortals, all of whom commit the “blunders” deplored by the critics. It’s great fun to see a stuffy cluck like Simon attacked, and Quinn goes at him with gusto, mostly on the grounds that English is not the first language of the Yugoslavia-born Simon: “No one would dream of recommending humility to Simon—he’s too much fun without it—but he might study English a little more carefully before he makes certain pronouncements.” Quinn dislikes Satire’s insistence on precision and claims that “Newman often demonstrates that he does not know the simple dictionary meaning of words.” It’s nitpicking, true, but the book is saved from tedium by Quinn’s extremely light touch and good humor. (Pantheon, $11.95)