A brand-new game has gone viral! Everyone with a Meme, a ubiquitous smart device, is playing Meaning Master and making up definitions and words to win. The winning words go into the Word Exchange, a database where people can purchase the definitions to words they’ve forgotten.

“It now seems dangerously naive, but before that night I’d never really believed that an outbreak could turn so quickly into an epidemic: the steadily rising waters abruptly rushing above our heads.”

page 236

But what happens when the popularity of Meaning Master is paired with a deadly virus whose main symptom is aphasia? Suddenly, meanings are losts and words start to crumble, leaving Anana, the daughter of the last Dictionary editor, to try to figure everything out… before she succumbs to the word flu.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

In The Word Exchange, this near-future world is populated with smart devices that are so advanced that they often seem to read our thoughts, just by using clues and behavior patterns. (ordering takeout when a stomach growl is detected).

A digital dystopia is paired with a story where the love of language fills every page.

It may be science fiction, but it feels rather fantastical. Science fiction may be geeky, but any lover of books and language will enjoy this one.

Rating (4 stars)

This book reminds me of The Circle by Dave Eggers, except that instead of despising it, I enjoyed it.

Maybe its because I have an enormous vocabulary. I know more words than I use in conversation, but just recently I’ve had to define constitutional (in the sense of walking, as in daily constitutional), and more bizarrely, intravenous.

The idea that words could disappear and just slip away is rather terrifying to me. The idea that people may start purchasing definitions when forgetting words from a simple wireless smart device doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

Graedon’s book may have hints of a dystopia brought about by technology and a strange (possibly-engineered) virus, but unlike The Circle, I feel it doesn’t expect you to believe such a dystopia will come about. Instead, it uses a story, meant to stay a story, to pass its meaning along.

The Word Exchange doesn’t get caught up in scientific definitions. Rather than a clear picture of the future, the noir overtones presents the future with a heavy dose of soft-focus and sepia-tone for a dreamlike story.

For all lovers of language, this book is a must.