The Story of English in 100 Words Hardcover – Mar 27 2012
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“The best word book to come down the pike in many a moon. There are "Eureka!" moments in every chapter. An ingenious idea, and only David Crystal could have pulled it off. He's a marvel (but then we knew that already).” ―Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, authors of Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, and bloggers at Grammarphobia.com
About the Author
DAVID CRYSTAL, is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the English language. He lives in the United Kingdom.
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Top Customer Reviews
Another great thing is he often adds as a final aside the numbers of times the word pops up if you Google it on the Web vs. some related term. Of course, that will date with time but it's still a cool way to add extra oomph to his entries.
Take it for what it is a fun coffee table book you can pick up and read in bits and bobs.
100 words, in other words, a precis. Instead, it is more like a dictionary. What a crying shame!!!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Although there are 100 sections, each with one word as its title, in fact Crystal uses many of them as triggers to talk about a great many other words. So, to give just one example, in the article headed "lakh" we also have references to "godown", "bungalow", "dungaree", "guru" and no fewer than 50 other words which English has borrowed from Indian or Arabic, or which Indian English has invented. So there is a lot of information in this book, and Crystal's enthusiasm, breadth of knowledge, and ruminations about language are very engaging.
The prose, and the storytelling, are where this book falls down. Parts of it read like it's meant for a ten year old--'egg', for example, features a recounting of the Caxton eggs/eyren story that I knew from Stories of English, except this version is written in Simple English for someone who's never heard of an inn before: "One of them went into a café (as we'd call it today) and asked for some 'eggs', but the lady who ran the establishment didn't understand what he wanted, and replied that she couldn't speak French. This made the sailor angry because he couldn't speak French either! He just wanted some 'eggs'." This isn't writing for amateurs--this is writing for children, and the kind of writing for children that infuriated me as a child because it talked down to me. And if his target audience is children, why the inclusion of a**e and c**t?
I could see buying a hard copy of this book to have around, but on Kindle, it's far from engaging enough to drop ten dollars on. Buy it if you need another fix of Crystal, but don't expect the light touch of his larger works.
Crystal begins his short history of English words by noting the Germanic origins of the language, even though the actual name of the language was not recording until the 10th century (#13 English). He looks at loan words (e.g., #6 street from Latin, #12 brock from Celtic and #20 skirt from Norse) and how words reflect changing views of the world (e.g., #4 loaf and #7 mead from Anglo-Saxon to #17 pork). International contacts changed the language (e.g., #33 taffeta and #39 potato). Of course, the Americas changed English with the introduction of American-Indian words (e.g., #45 skunk) and the development of its own culture (#58 Americanism). Of course, when English visits any new location, it is going to pick up new vocabulary (e.g., #48 lakh from India and #62 trek from Africa - to Star Trek!). English exhibits the creativity of its speakers, who loved to play with words (#9 riddle) and coin new expressions (#4 undeaf) and invent new words (from #83 blurb to today's #97 muggle, beloved of Harry Potter fans and geocachers). Words offer insights into how the structure of society (#65 lunch - with dinner ladies still serving school lunches in England) and progress in science (#75 DNA) and technology (#65 hello - which came about from the use of the telephone).
I am sure no-one reading this review would be uninterested in the subject, but it would make no sense to be disinterested (#54) - thanks to Dr. Johnson. This book is absolutely wicked (#25), and not merely OK (#71). LOL (#94). So don't dilly-dally (#56), and go and get your copy today!