Automotive Holiday Deals Books Gift Guide Books Gift Guide Shop Men's Athletic Shoes Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon Prime Music Sweepstakes egg_2015 All-New Amazon Fire TV Subscribe & Save Gifts for Her Amazon Gift Card Offer cm15 cm15 cm15 $30 Off Amazon Echo $30 Off Fire HD 6 Kindle Cyber Monday Deals Indie for the Holidays in Prime Music Outdoor Deals on HTL
REf Dictionaries Atlas Language Guides Writing Guides Learn more
The Lexicographer's Dilemma and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.

The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park

29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802777690
ISBN-10: 0802777694
Why is ISBN important?
This bar-code number lets you verify that you're getting exactly the right version or edition of a book. The 13-digit and 10-digit formats both work.
Scan an ISBN with your phone
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Buy used On clicking this link, a new layer will be open
$4.50 On clicking this link, a new layer will be open
Buy new On clicking this link, a new layer will be open
$13.21 On clicking this link, a new layer will be open
More Buying Choices
30 New from $3.98 42 Used from $0.01
Free Two-Day Shipping for College Students with Amazon Student Free%20Two-Day%20Shipping%20for%20College%20Students%20with%20Amazon%20Student

Get Up to 80% Back Rent Textbooks
$13.21 FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Only 2 left in stock (more on the way). Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.

Frequently Bought Together

  • The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park
  • +
  • English Words from Latin and Greek Elements
  • +
  • Workbook to Accompany the Second Edition of Donald M. Ayers's English Words from Latin and Greek Elements
Total price: $41.85
Buy the selected items together

Special Offers and Product Promotions

  • Take an Extra 30% Off Any Book: Use promo code HOLIDAY30 at checkout to get an extra 30% off any book for a limited time. Excludes Kindle eBooks and Audible Audiobooks. Restrictions apply. Learn more | Shop now

Editorial Reviews


“Lynch's highly readable book will appeal to all users of the English language, from word buffs to scholars alike.” ―Library Journal

“Lynch recognizes that grace, clarity, and precision of expression are paramount. His many well-chosen and entertaining examples support his conclusion that prescriptions and pedantry will always give way to change, and that we should stop fretting, relax, and embrace it.” ―Boston Globe

“In his sprightly new history of the notion of ‘proper' English … Lynch [asks] us all to calm down, please, and recognize that ‘proper' English is a recent and changeable institution.” ―Salon

About the Author

Jack Lynch is a professor of English at Rutgers University and a Johnson scholar, having studied the great lexicographer for nearly a decade. In addition to his books on Johnson and on Elizabethan England, he has written journal articles and scholarly reviews, and hosts a Web site devoted to these topics at He is the author of Becoming Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson's Insults and the editor of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary. He lives in Lawrenceville, NJ.

Hero Quick Promo
Holiday Deals in Kindle Books
Save up to 85% on more than 1,000 Kindle Books. These deals are valid until November 30, 2015. Learn more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802777694
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802777690
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jack Lynch is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. He's the author of a series of books and articles -- some for scholarly audiences, some for popular audiences -- on eighteenth-century culture, Samuel Johnson, William Shakespeare, the history of the English language, English grammar and style, reference books, and forgery, fakery, and fraud.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Laura Probst VINE VOICE on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
One might expect the first adjective, but certainly not the other two when describing a book on the subjects of linguistics and lexicography. However, I believe that this book will not only appeal to those familiar with these subjects, but also to those taking their first foray into the territory. This isn't some fusty old textbook, laying out the history of the English language, invasion to invasion, scribe to Gutenberg. Instead, it's a jolly romp through the trials and travails of those intimately involved with the attempt to categorize, curtail, and clean up our messy, confusing English language; from the curmudgeonly to confused, from shy to boastful, from historically famous to those left behind as mere footnotes. The biggest selling point is the fact that modern contributors to English aren't ignored, glossed over, or treated as a pox upon our "noble" language. Many familiar names are referenced alongside (or, more accurately, right after) the more sedate, historical personages such as Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster: George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Quentin Tarantino--those who, in their own colorful, creative, and ofttimes controversial way, continue to shape what we know as "good" English and "bad" English. And, yes, that includes South Park. The phenomenon brought about by the Internet Age--blogging, texting, Tweeting--all those activities supported by a vast multitude of unnamed persons who support these endeavors with their own shorthand versions of English, also earns a place in the lineage of our language.

Upon reading this book, I realized something very important: Nothing is new. From the dawn of language itself, people have been bemoaning its demise.
Read more ›
13 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Rob Szarka on November 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'll admit it: I'm a word-nerd. But even if you're not the sort of person who reads Fowler for fun, there's much here to delight anyone who loves language. If you've ever wondered what that "p" is doing in "receipt", or argued with a friend over the status of "ain't", you're sure to enjoy this book.

The "dilemma" in the title refers to the tension between descriptive and prescriptive approaches to English usage and grammar: between documenting the way English is actually written or spoken and enforcing someone's idea of "proper" English. Although he's also the author of The English Language: A User's Guide, Lynch is no narrow-minded prescriptivist. As he writes in the concluding chapter: "Speaking and writing our own language shouldn't be a chore; we should resist all attempts to make us feel ashamed of speaking the way the rest of the world speaks." At the same time, Lynch treats the oft-maligned "18th-century grammarians" fairly, presenting them as more than caricatures and giving historical context for their efforts.

The Lexicographer's Dilemma is fascinating because it touches on so many subjects in the course of exploring this central theme: from the great dictionaries and the people who edited them to the vagaries of English orthography and the many, futile attempts to reform it; from Dryden and Swift to George Carlin. Though I found the final three chapters less interesting (and a bit preachy), I found most of the book as gripping as a well-plotted novel. I also learned a great deal, despite a life-long fascination with the subject matter and a shelf full of similar books. Finally, Lynch's own writing is clear and full of good humor.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Waldo Lydecker on November 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A learned yet accessible book on the modern history of the English language, which gloriously has resisted true standardization to this day -- which allows it to remain alive and to be enjoyed by George Carlin no less than William Safire. Explains the tension between "norma loquendi" and the "King's English", between the descriptive and the prescriptive. I particularly enjoyed the deep dive into the nature of certain iconic grammatical "rules", how they came to be, and why they are usually ill-founded. Usage is what ultimately matters, and Henry Watson Fowler's (and his followers, such as Strunk and White) instructions to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous and lucid can hardly be improved on. Lynch provides us with five grounds to object to a word, phrase or usage: taste, authority, etymology, analogy, and logic. Always appropriate to keep in mind when speaking or writing.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S. Gustafson on December 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The curious thing about the prescriptive tradition of English language punditry is not that it exists. Every widely used written language develops one, because they all exist on a continuum of formal versus colloquial styles. Written language cannot fully express some communication strategies used in spoken language, and therefore needs new ones. No, what makes the English language tradition of stylistic guidance different is the peculiar vehemence and rancor its more recent exponents use in delivering their judgments.

To me, the most interesting point this book makes is to set out the origin of the tradition in class anxiety. When kings were kings and lords were lords, they had no need to be anxious as to whether their usage was "correct" or not. Rather, the rise of a newly literate middle class caused anxiety over appropriate style and grammar to arise. People whose grandparents had no need for reading or writing wanted to be certain that their written text conformed to prestige varieties of English, and thus became consumers of dictionaries, works of instruction on prose models, and style guides. Prof. Lynch, a Samuel Johnson scholar whose previous works include a selection of gems from Johnson's dictionary, is well situated to give an account of this process.

In one standard narrative, "eighteenth century grammarians" are made the villains of this process. This book debunks that narrative. These grammarians were not a pack of self-important schoolmasters enforcing arbitrary decrees with rod and cane. They were, in fact, first rate minds. They included Joseph Priestley, the chemist who caused no end of trouble with his invention of oxygen; and Robert Lowth, a less well known name, but one of the period's profoundest Old Testament scholars.
Read more ›
2 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews

Set up an Amazon Giveaway

Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers. Learn more
The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park
This item: The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park
Price: $13.21
Ships from and sold by

Want to discover more products? Check out this page to see more: south park's philosophy