Picks and Pans Review: Mushy! the Complete Book of Valentine Words
by Lynda Graham-Barber
Don't let the babyish title throw you off. This book, while probably at least partly intended for children, contains adult information worth knowing. To wit: "groom" (the wedding kind) may come from a term "used to describe someone who performed menial tasks of any kind, not just taking care of horses," and so "newly married men were expected to wait on their brides at the table." (Tell that to a modern suitor.)
Or consider that British and American World War II soldiers were forbidden to end letters with Xs symbolizing kisses (authorities feared spies might use Xs as a code). Or that "love" as "zero" in tennis comes either from "to play for love"—to play for fun—or from anglicizing the French l'oeuf, which can mean zero.
Graham-Barber, an ex-children's book editor, claims her "long love affair with words" inspired the book. That explains its gleeful tone. There aren't enough valentine-related words in common use today to maintain an adult reader's interest though, let alone lure a child away from a video game. And Betsy Lewin's simple drawings can't match Super Mario's graphics. (Bradbury, $13.95)
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