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The Story of English in 100 Words Paperback – Mar 26 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 26 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 125002420X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250024206
  • Product Dimensions: 11.5 x 2.1 x 18 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #152,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER on Aug. 11 2012
Format: Hardcover
You really don't have to work with words or be a linguist to love this book. David Crystal is not trying to give you the definitive guide to the history of English so unlike the PBS series "Story of English," don't be fooled by the title. Crystal has taken 100 random yet they do have some sense of purpose words in the English language and basically spelled out their history. He has common words in there as well as words that have long since fell out of favor.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was surprised by how much I like this book. I read it as a follow up to similar books by C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield that were written as histories of English words so that students can read older poetry and prose without getting messed up on how words have changed in meaning. Though this book misses the depth of Lewis or the theory of Barfield, it is far more accessible. It is a great quick read, a happenstance book (see here: that is worth carrying around with you. It also comes with a strong audio version with a delightful reader.
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By Salem on Dec 23 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book contains 100 words commonly used with their facts and/or where the words came from. Word such as Hello, twitter, et cetera...
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By lois c beckett on July 11 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am very disappointed with this book....Marketing does ruin and fool people's minds. I thought this would be a story of English in
100 words, in other words, a precis. Instead, it is more like a dictionary. What a crying shame!!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 36 reviews
43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Logophiles will enjoy this book Jan. 8 2012
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Like the two volumes of Foyle's Philavery which I have reviewed on Amazon earlier, this volume, by an author who has written twelve other books about the English language, makes another pleasant and entertaining gift for logophiles. Here, too, you come across some words (bone-house, bodgery, dragsman, mipela, doobry, bagonize, chillax), though nothing like as many as in the Philavery volumes - but then the purpose of this book is different: it is to show when familiar words first appeared, how in some cases the spelling has changed, how words have evolved over the years and how new words - some ephemeral, some enduring - are constantly being coined. It may not be all that interesting to discover when a word was first used, and again only a few of those evolutions - like how "glamour" evolved from "grammar" or what "lunch" originally meant - are surprising. Crystal has collected many modern coinages - acronyms, abbreviations, slang - some of which are familiar (especially those deriving from the internet), while others will not be - Obamabots, for example: people who robot-like support Barack Obama, for instance. There are also several references to regional words, used only in parts of the United Kingdom. He also has passages on American English, Australian English, pidgin English etc.

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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating topic, unfortunate prose May 9 2012
By sixquarters - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Crystal is obviously a very talented writer and a careful scholar, and as a lover of his Stories of English (which I highly recommend) I wanted to like this book much more than I did. The selection of words is interesting and a number of the facts are new to me even as a reader of etymologies, including his. "Roe" is great for the archaeological insight as much as the linguistic history and Crystal is clear and funny on the idiosyncratic origins of collective nouns in "Gaggle".

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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining and enlightening book about about the history and development of the English language April 29 2012
By Ex-Pat Brit - Published on
Format: Hardcover
David Crystal's book is a series of 100 essays that launch from one of 100 select words. For example, "Garage" - word #76 - is subtitled "a pronunciation problem (20th century)" and the essay discusses variation in pronunciation. Each essay is between 2 and 3 pages long, so this is a perfect bathroom reader. Each chapter is independent, so you can flip to just about any page and start reading another essay. The book is gentle and pleasant reading, and and enjoyable way to learn more about the English language and its ongoing development.

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!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Fun but not what I thought May 25 2012
By Wine Teacher - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a nice book, the kind that you may have in the bathroom as the chapters are short and most are fun. I was hoping that this would be a book that told the history of the English language in a more comprehensive way through the stories of 100 words. I don't think it is that. It is simply a collection of 100 stories on 100 English words but these stories do not form a comprehensive or even cohesive view of the English language. Fun stories nevertheless and mostly good reads.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A quick read, and a must read May 3 2012
By Bryan Kerr - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up the other day while on one of my numerous pilgrimages to Barnes and Noble. I was in the philosophy section and this book caught my eye in passing. I picked it up, briefly flipped through its pages, and brought it up to the counter; I'm happy I did. Crystal's book was a pleasure to read. This book is a series of 100 brief lessons on how words come into the English language, and how they evolve. These lessons are introduced by a word that aptly fits the description of the lesson being illustrated. An example is Debt (page 105-106). Crystal calls this section "spelling reform." Why does the word "debt" have an unpronounced -b- in it? Crystal traces this to an attempt to intellectualize words during a resurgence of Latin and Greek. Originally, English adopted the word without the -b- but a later attempt to Latinize words brought the -b- back. Few were ever so pretentious as to demand the pronunciation of -b- though some have tried. The purpose here wasn't to change the pronunciation of the word but to make it more academic. This is just an example of one of the one hundred language lessons that Crystal introduces. This was a wonderful read, and a rather quick one. I would highly recommend this book to kith and kin. Its cheap price makes it that much more desirable.

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