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The Language Wars: A History of Proper English Hardcover – October 25, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0374183295 ISBN-10: 0374183295 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374183295
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374183295
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Hitchings has prepared a turducken of language-history entrées. Consuming one layer, we discover another, and another. And we feast."---The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
"Thoroughly charming…A rich history of English and the shifting rule books for its correctness…Hitchings cautions readers to take care, not in the way of the ‘grumblers, fault-finders, quibblers and mud-slingers,’ but following the example of Orwell, in using language to be clear, to be honest, to connect with each other."---The Boston Globe
 
"Hitchings has earned a place at the head table of contemporary linguists."---The Denver Post

"Mr. Hitchings’s trenchant prose is irresistible."---The Baltimore Sun

"Extraordinary…Chock-full of historical and literary references, The Language Wars is a fascinating, eye-opening look at the evolution of the English language."---The Huffington Post

"Crisply written, amusing, informative, and thought-provoking. Anyone interested in the English language and its history should read it."---The Sunday Telegraph (London)

About the Author

Henry Hitchings was born in 1974. He is the author of The Secret Life of Words, Who’s Afraid of Jane Austen?, and Defining the World. He has con­tributed to many newspapers and magazines and is the theater critic for the London Evening Standard.


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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By MED on November 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The local bookstore had this book displayed front and center surrounded by dictionaries. I bought it, went home and read it in one sitting. I have since reread entire passages two and three times. Like Hitchings I wince when people use improper grammatical construction or interchange words incorrectly. I am often stunned by work product I receive from employees who have no ability to concisely convey their thoughts, much less convey them in complete sentences with proper use of adjectives and adverbs. The increasing use of `text speak' and truncated twitter messages do not bode well for our ongoing treatment of language.

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.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Henry R. Rupp on February 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As an erstwhile college English teacher and part-time copy editor, I found this book fascinating and felt sorry it had to end so soon. Some readers were offended by the extended discussion of foul language, but to omit this topic would have been dishonest--just listen to what is going on around you. Like one reviewer, I was a bit taken back by the historical gaffe regarding the French and Indian Wars, but perhaps Hitchings was taking a more continental view of the war. Also, I found it difficult to equate the conquests of Ghengis Khan with genocide; that was the way they fought then--surrender and you live, resist and you die, and he was very egalitarian in dealing out death. Coming from a person who is so sensitive to the meaning of words, this definition was a stunner.
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."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Barat on May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Hitchings, previously the author of a fine book on the history of Samuel Johnson's famous DICTIONARY, here traces the "history of proper English" in a highly anecdotal, but equally enjoyable, volume. Cultural declinists who are convinced that our society is becoming ever more illiterate thanks to slipshod education and the growing dominance of electronic media will perhaps be heartened -- though only a bit, I would imagine -- to learn that writers, readers, and thinkers have been worrying over the state of the English language for many hundreds of years. Despite numerous attempts -- some well-mounted, some far-fetched -- to encase English grammar, spelling, and rules of usage in some sort of rigorously defined and maintained carapace of regular rules, the language and its structure have continued to mutate, and this process is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Hitchings' goal is to describe "how we got here," and this he does quite admirably.

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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Raminak on May 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The first, I would say, 60% of the book on development and history of the English language is a very enjoyable read. I feel, during the latter part, the author loses the cohesiveness of the subject and starts 'dabbling' in 'a bit of this and that'. All in all a good book. I am looking forward to the author's book on 'the English and their habits' to come out in Kindle format.
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