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Founding Grammars: How Early America's War Over Words Shaped Today's Language Hardcover – May 12, 2015
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“Ostler brings the 'war of grammar' up to the present. Lively and revealing discussion of a battle that seems likely to continue as long as English is spoken.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“[A] remarkable history.” ―Booklist
“Fans of Lynne Truss...or anyone with an interest in language history will find this a worthy addition to the grammar conversation.” ―Library Journal
“In the late nineteenth century there were people who would have given you grief at a dinner party for using barbarous and illegitimate words such as JEOPARDIZE, PRACTITIONER and GUBERNATORIAL. If you wonder why, Rosemarie Ostler's book tells you, while showing that grammar-pusses have been with us for centuries now while English has kept on keeping on.” ―John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and What Language Is
“Founding Grammars is a fanfare for the common word, a welcome reminder that American English is a language of the people, by the people, and for the people. Noah Webster would approve.” ―Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I and coauthor of Origins of the Specious
“Why do we say 'according to Webster,' or 'according to Strunk and White,' and what exactly does that mean? Why do so many of us cling to outmoded rules while so many others dismiss or ignore them altogether? Rosemarie Ostler's well-researched and entertaining exploration of who once called the shots in American usage, and why, offers valuable insights into how the disputed territory of the so-called language wars has changed--and how it has not--since Noah Webster declared the independence of American English in 1789.” ―Charles Harrington Elster, author of Word Workout and The Accidents of Style
About the Author
ROSEMARIE OSTLER, a linguist and former librarian, enjoys delving into the rich record of American usage and word invention. Her books about slang and word origins explore the colorful turns of phrase in America's past lexicon. Ostler's articles have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Whole Earth, Christian Science Monitor, Verbatim, Writer's Digest, and Entrepreneur.com among others. Rosemarie lives in Eugene, Oregon.
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Top customer reviews
The wars between competing grammar books was vicious, and personal insults were exchanged. This continued into the twentieth century when Merriam-Webster released its third edition. In that edition, where there seemed to be acceptance of the word “ain’t,” the war was on. When President Dwight Eisenhower used the word “finalize,” a word that no one would give a second thought to using today, he was excoriated by grammar purists. (Americans do have a habit of turning nouns into verbs.)
Ostler did an excellent job in documenting the history of American grammar. Even so, it is, for the most part, a dry read--not surprising when you consider that we are talking about the structure of a sentence. The book does lighten up when real people, such as Davy Crockett, are included as examples of colloquial speech, but there is little of that. My major complaint is that the book comes to an abrupt end in the 1960s as if our grammar stopped evolving. But if you want to know why we write the Jones’s cat instead of the Jones’ cat, then this is the book for you.