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Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation [Kindle Edition]

Ammon Shea
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $24.00
Kindle Price: $9.78
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

The author of Reading the OED presents an eye-opening look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not.

English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impolite, or just plain wrong.

Whether you consider yourself a stickler, a nitpicker, or a rule-breaker in the know, Bad English is sure to enlighten, enrage, and perhaps even inspire. Filled with historic and contemporary examples, the book chronicles the long and entertaining history of language mistakes, and features some of our most common words and phrases, including:

Ain’t Irregardless

Lively, surprising, funny, and delightfully readable, this is a book that will settle arguments among word lovers—and it’s sure to start a few, too.

Editorial Reviews


"On the playground of language, there is no more mischievous laddie than Ammon Shea." ---Roy Peter Clark, author of The Glamour of Grammar

About the Author

Ammon Shea is the author of Reading the OED, along with Depraved English, Insulting English, and The Phone Book. A dictionary collector, he has worked as a consulting editor of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. He has also contributed to the "On Language" column in Sunday's New York Times. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Mike Chamberlain is an actor and voice-over performer, as well as an AudioFile Earphones Award–winning audiobook narrator. Along with animation and video game characters, Mike performs narration and voices promos for television.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1783 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Perigee (June 3, 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00G3L1BBW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,773 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun debunking of "proper" speech June 28, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There are two schools of thought among lexicographers and grammarians -- prescriptivists and descriptivists. The prescriptivists think that their profession includes guidance on speaking and writing "proper" English. The descriptivists believe that their job is just to describe how English is actually used. Most lexicographers and grammarians are a little bit of both. Shea tilts very much toward the descriptivist end of the spectrum -- I can only think of one place where he finds a usage to be improper. Along the way, he debunks prescriptivist claims about the improper or unhistorical nature of many words and word usages, such as "ain't," "compact," dangling prepositions, split infinitives, inappropriate apostrophes, etc. His researches into word history are learned and extraordinary, and effectively demolishe claims that certain disfavored usages are new or unattested in good authors. Furthermore, the book is a fun read. He uses humor to demonstrate that staid and proper grammarians do not know what they are talking about. His central thesis seems to be that there is no one such thing as "good English."

One could wish for a little more reflection from Shea, however. Like anything which evolves over time, language changes because more useful locutions drive out older, less useful ones. How does this happen, and why? Linguist evolution requires two things -- a certain degree of stability of usage, or people could not understand each other at all, and a certain degree of change, or language could not adapt to new conditions. It seems to me that Shea underplays the role of the former. Language serves many functions, but surely the most important of them is intelligibility.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
The books that teach language usually are not too interesting, to put it politely, instead of saying boring or tiresome. ‘Bad English’ by Ammon Shea certainly does not fall into this category, although out of it reader will learn a lot, but equally important – have a great time.

This is the first book I read from this author (didn’t read his ‘Reading the OED’) and as not native speaker, using Shea book I managed to learn a lot about many “mistakes” in English I didn’t knew earlier, which now became more or less accepted as correct.

On the book pages author tries to give a background on history of English language, describing the ways how the language slowly developed, using numerous sources and constantly changing through the long times of its usage.

Reading it, it is possible to learn about many modern and common English words these days that you would never say that they were treated as a misspelling or considered indecent, but due to the author style who provided his story in an interesting way, offering numerous examples, these three hundred pages will fly.

Therefore all recommendations to this funny but also educational work with which certainly will not be bored.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In his latest language book, Ammon Shea, the author of "Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages," looks into the "history of linguistic aggravation." Take, for example, the confusing history of the apostrophe and the seven ways we can use it... the pros and cons of splitting infinitives... a history of "ain't" and the many ways "like" is used and abused. There's also a chapter on words that are not words, like "stupider," "irregardless" and "preventative." And sins of grammar--for example, turning a noun like "impact" into a verb or "fun" into an adjective. So why, unlike with other languages, doesn't there exist a regulating body to "guard English against the pernicious efforts of foreigners, poets and teenagers, all of whom seek to render it impure?" Shea tackles that question, too.

The author ends his book with a quiz: Of 14 quotations he lists, he challenges us to pick which are by Shakespeare and which come from the disparate world of hip-hop/rap. Sounds easy? Don't be so sure.

There's also a list of 221 words now in common use that were once frowned upon, along with who said so and why. Among them: awful, balding, bogus, bus, coincidence, date, debut, donate, fine, fun, funny, happening, healthy, hectic, hopeful, hurry, ice cream, invite, lovely, nice, rotten, sick, thanks, vest, upcoming, zoom.

A good read. Useful, too.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
As one who considers himself expert in the use of English grammar, I have been prone to turning my nose up at the use of "impact" as a verb or grinding my teeth when I hear someone say "ektcetera". But after reading over Mr. Shea's most amiable discussion of the advantages of a malleable and diverse language and the development over time of English words, their meanings, and their changed meanings I am less apt to "snoot" (to coin a word, i.e. to be snooty about misuse of English words). Mr. Shea shows through examples that English survives and becomes universal because of its ability to change and that there is no original English to fall back upon for justification of restrictive rules. I chortled throughout, especially when I recognized myself in those who would state absolutes. I particularly enjoyed the references to style guides from the 19th century that called words I think of as "everyday" today abominations. Short read, good travel book. And great for starting conversations with others.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Amusing. Eye-opening. Instructive.
Published 13 days ago by Jacquelyn manchester
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, with One Caveat
It was quite interesting to see how grammar and usage have changed over the centuries. A word or its use may have been acceptable hundreds of years ago, and then have become... Read more
Published 21 days ago by bonnie_blu
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it. So funny and so interesting
It is a book that will take awhile to finish. Love it. So funny and so interesting , but I don't see anybody just sitting down and reading it from cover to cover in a day or too. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Lori A. Candage
3.0 out of 5 stars just ok
goes on for too long. a fast read, but he goes on complaining for too long
Published 1 month ago by mast2
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book to fight the grammar Nazis
Its all about perspective over time of the language.
Published 1 month ago by MED
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
It isn't what I expected!
Published 1 month ago by musicmom
4.0 out of 5 stars Malleable
I was greatly entertained by Ammon Shea’s book, Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, until he skewered me with one of those “misuses” that drives me nuts. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Stephen T. Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book! My only regret is that it was ...
Fantastic book! My only regret is that it was not long enough and could have covered even more. I sure hope he writes another one.
Published 2 months ago by Bibliophile
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
The beginning of the book is very interesting and engaging. I was sorry that the author stopped his commentary and finished the book with just a very long list of words with no... Read more
Published 3 months ago by K. F. Barnes
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! He demonstrates the fluid nature of rules and ...
Brilliant! He demonstrates the fluid nature of rules and finished with a wonderful defense of the language.
Published 3 months ago by wof
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