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on January 8, 2012
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.
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on May 9, 2012
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.
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on April 29, 2012
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!
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on December 2, 2014
IT IS NOT CRYSTAL’S BEST WORK!
I have purchased David Crystal’s books since I started to study English as a Foreign Language long time ago, and I got used to his style. After reading his The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Language, I expected something deeper.
So, do not expect to learn the story of English in this book. On the other hand, we should ask ourselves: is that possible to tell the story of English in 100 words?
Well, Crystal explain how he did it in the preface of his book : “ it is , of course, a personal list. If you would choose 100 hundred words to represent the English language, they would certainly be different.”
Considering he has a great knowledge in Language Teaching and Learning and is a famous writer in this field, I guess he can write a good book in this issue, maybe better than any other writer. Besides, it`s good price.Therefore, it’s worth to buy the book.
I did not read the story of English, but I learned lots of curious aspects of English language.
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VINE VOICEon November 28, 2013
Frankly, I found this surprisingly boring. Its the sort of thing a writer like Crystal churns out in order to have another title in print. Most of the 100 entries beyond the early 60's deal more with sociology and pop culture than with language; they're the stuff of Sunday newspaper columns, not books about the "story of English." The earlier parts are interesting but the "story" is better and more coherently told elsewhere.
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VINE VOICEon May 25, 2012
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.
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on October 13, 2013
The Story of English in 100 Words

i read this 'novel' in two days! so interesting a book on english grammar(?) is hard to find. one could always question the choice of words. why not x, why not why...... i could add 1000 more i like. but david crystal has chosen a wonderful reading list of 100 and has made sense of it and that is what matters. those who critic have not written! every book of david is better than the last one. this one, pardon me, takes the cake!
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on May 3, 2012
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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on March 13, 2013
I I gave this book 4 stars because I wanted more! It is a good romp through 100 words used in the English language - primarily used by English rather than American speakers. There was a lot of reference to words used in specific areas on the United Kingdom, and it reminded me of my growing up!
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on September 5, 2015
Delightfully written book, in which the complex history of the English language is elucidated through 100 easy-to-read chapters, each devoted to a single, representative word. Each chapter contains some sort of interesting surprise to the reader. Chapters are about 5-10 minutes in reading length -- great for the airplane or for any other odd moments -- and can be read in any order. The writing style is highly entertaining, yet backed by serious scholarship throughout. Can't go wrong!
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