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Language Wars: A History of Proper English
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Hitchings has a descriptivist view that languages evolve over time. This is in direct contrast to the prescriptivist view that there is one right way to speak and write. He cites historical references for why some things are improper, i.e., ending a sentence with a preposition or the use of contractions in speech and writing. Additionally he peppers his book with anecdotal stories of individuals who disliked a particular word or its use in certain situations. He has a compelling argument for clear expression that political correctness sometimes obscures. He talks with passion about the identity a language gives a nation.
This is not likely a book that will appeal to a wide audience. If you enjoy the minutiae of language and its history, this is a book for you.
I wish that he had written more about the debilitating effects of PowerPoint on writing and its potential for numbing an audience. Having a presenter read the slides in a PowerPoint presentation must rate high on the cruel-and-unusual punishment scale. However, this topic may not rate high on his list of linguistic sins.
The great thing about this book, in addition to the information it provides, is its sense of humor. Sorry about that moralistic people, but there are funny asides throughout the book that keep this from being a dry as dust historic tome about language and serve as great ways of making a point.
Perhaps it might have been better to have as a subtitle "A History of Proper and not so Proper English." That might have served as a warning flag to those with delicate sensitivities.
All in all, a book that makes me want to search out Hitchings' other books. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Hopkins mediates the eternal argument between descriptivists (those grammarians who merely want to describe the language as it is actually used) and prescriptivists (those who seek to discover the rules that the language should follow) in a fair manner. Though perhaps leaning a bit towards the descriptivist side, he provides an even-handed treatment of the innumerable grammars, spellers, dictionaries, style guides, and other devices that writers have used to beat English's idiosyncrasies into something resembling a manageable form. The names and dates flash by so quickly that it is very easy to get lost, especially when no facsimile pages or similar visual materials are provided to illustrate the tomes being described.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As one of the people Mr. Hitchings gently teases in his book (i.e., an "inveterate fusspot" and an avid follower of the "prescriptive grammar" approach), it is a... Read morePublished 9 months ago by sharon d
I've always been interested in how people communicate in general and in language and it's uses - especially why we say things in the way we do. Read morePublished 20 months ago by marvaleo
Just the type of book I was looking for, and it will be used as a gift for a friend.Published on March 25, 2013 by Ellen
I'm reading this book, but I got stymied at the chapter about America because the author has the Native Americans fighting with the British against their colonists in the 7 years... Read morePublished on January 14, 2013 by KAMV9
Hitchings does a monumental job in research and thoroughness on the history of the English language comparable to The Secret Life of Words. Read morePublished on July 12, 2012 by Elvin Ortiz
As author Henry Hitchings notes in the opening of "The Language Wars," those whose first language is English frequently argue and debate about how to use the language properly in... Read morePublished on June 7, 2012 by Eric Mayforth
I anticipated a book that had a little more imagination to it than this. While it does point out the history of spelling, or non-spelling if you will, for example, it tends to... Read morePublished on March 11, 2012 by Charles J. Kolker Jr.
I'm only a few chapters into the book and I've already learned some interesting things. The author is British so you'll see some British spellings and expressions. Read morePublished on January 5, 2012 by jimtherunner