What Our Words Say About Us

By James W. Pennebaker Bloomsbury. 352 pp. $28

Despite the title, this book is about much more than “he,” “she,” “it” and the other members of the pronoun family. The author, James W. Pennebaker, chairs the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, and his goal is to show how the words we use tell tales about our feelings, self-image and intelligence. In one chapter he notes that “women use more cognitive words than men” (that is, words such as “think” and “know,” along with “because and “reason”). Men tend to talk about things, such as carburetors, while women talk more about people and how they relate to one another.

‘The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us’ by James W. Pennebaker (Bloomsbury)

What does this contrast say about intelligence? According to Pennebaker, women go to the head of the class: “Two speakers — male or female — can troubleshoot a carburetor in under an hour. But even the most creative and diligent scientists, much less two interested speakers, are unable to understand, explain, or agree on why actress Jennifer Lopez is attracted to the men she is or how long she will remain married to her current husband.” How time flies! J.Lo, of course, no longer has a husband — since this book went into production, she and he (to use a pair of pronouns) have gone phhttt.

Dennis Drabelle