The Story of English in 100 Words Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
It's perhaps best described as 100 short "columns" about random aspects of etymology and word formation. Each column takes specific word as a starting point, but usually that word is just a conversation starter. Sadly, many of the conversations don't go very deep. The least interesting ones degenerate in long lists of words that "also" follow a specific pattern. The best ones taught me interesting things I didn't know before, but there just weren't enough of these. Some of the worst ones seemed to just be improvisations, discussing some of the author's opinions on non-language-related subjects or telling almost-funny jokes.
The author is also quite keen on the new words brought to us by the age of the Internet. Sadly, he appears to be a rather casual Internet user and doesn't have much to add. Often when he tries to show off his knowledge of Internet jargon he misses the mark by emphasizing terms already obsolete or getting them slightly wrong. I suspect he's using some secondary sources.
All in all, not a total waste, but hardly the best $11 I've ever spent.
Crystal largely succeeds in his attempt, though I think the result still ends up being more of an etymology book than a systemic history of English. Still, it's a fun and highlighy readable narrative, and as a bonus you'll actually learn the stories of far more than 100 words--while each of the 100 chapters uses a single word as its starting point, Crystal introduces many other words and phrases for illustration and comparison.
There are plenty of illuminating moments. Chapter 4, for example, explores the history of the word "loaf", a word that started out as the Anglo-Saxon "hlaf" during the 9th Century. The head of a household was a "hlaf-weard," literally a bread warden; the woman of the house was a "hlaefdige," a bread-kneader (the word "dige" is related to the modern "dough"). Hlaf-weard changed in the 14th century, as people quit pronouncing the "f", leading eventually to "lahrd" and finally to "lord." (Although Crystal doesn't mention it in this book, the Anglo-Saxon "hlaefdige" gradually evolved into "lady".Read more ›
A few years ago I read Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But I bet that this tiny little tome will have a longer-lasting effect on my appreciation of the English language.
Not only is the author the consummate master of his topic, he's also head over heels in love with it. No exaggeration, you get the feeling he narrowed it down to 100 from his favorite 10,000 words. He weaves in the Celtic, the Anglo-Saxon, the Viking, the Latin and the Norman / French, but does not forget the American, the Indian or even the Pidgin and he goes looking for the medical and the Internet terms that have crept into the language too. As a Greek, and one who speaks five languages, I'm rather miffed he never refers to the Greek roots of several English words, but I regardless thought this was a masterpiece.
What we have here is a celebration of the English Language, rather than a mere story, basically. Reading this book is a bit like having the curator of the British Museum take you through his favorite ten exhibits. You get the history, the context, the evolution, everything.
I'm jealous of David Crystal. He gets paid to share his life's biggest passion.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book was a very enjoyable way to while away a few hours with a light read. You learn many interesting footnotes and a bit about the way language works.Published 14 months ago by Kiwi viewer
It took me a year of slowly reading and absorbing this book but it was well worth it. It covers a wide time frame and has a lot of cool insight into our language.Published on January 19, 2014 by Adrian Burton
This was a gift for my husband. He heard about it on NPR, was interested, so I gifted it. He loves the book.Published on June 26, 2013 by Bobbi
Immensely entertaining and amusing, as well as educative. A must for lovers of the language, who are interested in the origin of words an how time can change meaningPublished on April 6, 2013 by Amazon Customer
This is a fun book for people who are interested in language, written in 100 small chunks, best suited for reading bit by bit, such as during a morning commute. Read morePublished on February 25, 2013 by V7+9
This is surprisingly readable - each word given its original and modern usage and a look into the way our language is changing still. Read morePublished on October 20, 2012 by abuela
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