573.2 Dunbar. It’s at a library near you.

Welcome to the premier episode of A Dewey a Day!

As promised, here’s the bibliographic info for the book:

Grooming, gossip, and the evolution of language

Dunbar, R. I. M. (Robin Ian MacDonald)

Publisher:  Harvard University Press, Pub date:  c1996.

Who knew we’d luck up and get such a dumpling (juicy and savory) on the first day?!  Here’s a pic:

It was happy to see me and ready for its closeup!

I hunted for and found this little number waaaaay in the back of the General Collections department.  After sanitizing today’s special (library books are gross) I proceeded to give it a more thorough once over.  No, scraps of paper tucked inside.  No notes in the margins. That sucks but I forged ahead.

Summary (Publisher’s Weekly Review):

There is no denying that Dunbar (The Trouble with Science) makes something of a splash in the field of evolutionary psychology when he argues that the main impetus behind the evolution of language is the human need to gossip. Of course, readers should not be fooled by the seemingly flip use of the term “gossip,” since Dunbar’s gossip refers to any type of social conversation. For Dunbar gossip constitutes the linguistic equivalent of grooming, the means by which primates, especially chimpanzees and baboons, establish relations within a group. 

My Reaction:

Eye catching cover.  High falutin brow, sophisticated language (this is the Haahvard Press after all).  I learned a new word on the very 1st page.


frisson-A sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill: “a frisson of excitement”.


I’d say that there’s worth the price of admission!  And please believe I’ll be using my new word post haste!  In plain language the author professes that—assuming you buy into the evolution spiel— language also evolved from primitive utterances and gestures and that this evolution was mostly driven by the need to gossip.  He goes on for 207 pages; starting with the grooming habits of primates,  somehow meandering over to the O.J. Simpson trial and then leaping into a chapter on the low intonation of  Christian liturgies, all to assert that language evolved so that we could talk to each other more easily. Well duh.

This one might get the blank stare from me.

I’m sure my cursory skimming is causing me to over simplify but hey, I didn’t say it’d be a Rhodes Scholar analysis.

I got through day 1!!!  I think I just experienced some frisson over here!  Can’t wait to see where Day 2 takes us!


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