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Comment: Former library book with corresponding stickers and markings. Clean pages, tight binding. Nice copy.
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The Story of English in 100 Words Hardcover – March 27, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The best word book to come down the pike in many a moon. There are "Eureka!" moments in every chapter. An ingenious idea, and only David Crystal could have pulled it off. He's a marvel (but then we knew that already).” ―Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, authors of Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, and bloggers at Grammarphobia.com

About the Author

DAVID CRYSTAL, is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the English language. He lives in the United Kingdom.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; unknown edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250003466
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250003461
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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).
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