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Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

Overview

Bill Bryson, who gave glorious voice to The Mother Tongue, now celebrates her magnificent offspring in the book that reveals once and for all how a dusty western hamlet with neither woods nor holly came to be known as Hollywood...and exactly why Mr. Yankee Doodle call his befeathered cap "Macaroni."

This successor to the popular The Mother Tongue presents a brilliant, one-of-a-kind history not only of American words, but of America through words. Filled with hugely ...

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Overview

Bill Bryson, who gave glorious voice to The Mother Tongue, now celebrates her magnificent offspring in the book that reveals once and for all how a dusty western hamlet with neither woods nor holly came to be known as Hollywood...and exactly why Mr. Yankee Doodle call his befeathered cap "Macaroni."

This successor to the popular The Mother Tongue presents a brilliant, one-of-a-kind history not only of American words, but of America through words. Filled with hugely entertaining anecdotes about the way American English came to be, Made In America is "delightful . . . exuberantly informative." (Washington Post Book World).

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
A treat ... filled with surprises ... a literate exploration ofwhy we use — or mangle-our native tongue.
Denver Post
Plain fun ... a terrific book, likely to make its readerschuckle if not guffaw ... Bryson manages to demolish somecherished American myths ... If more high schools used thisas their history text, the course might be one of the morepopular ones in school.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Romping through history and folk customs, Bill Bryson hascompiled a highly entertaining book about the growth ofAmerican English ... Enjoy it, learn from it, laugh at thefoibles of our peculiar tongue.
Wall Street Journal
From slavery, immigration and Westward expansion to advertising, sex and shopping malls, he provides scads of fascinating, often little-known facts and anecdotes that, far from glutting his reader's appetites, should leave them hungry for more.
Washington Post Book World
Delightful . . . relentlessly, exuberantly informative . . . a potted history of the United States, presenting aspects of American life from cooking to swearing, from warring to shopping.
USA Today
A treat ... filled with surprises ... a literate exploration ofwhy we use — or mangle-our native tongue.
Denver Post
Plain fun ... a terrific book, likely to make its readerschuckle if not guffaw ... Bryson manages to demolish somecherished American myths ... If more high schools used thisas their history text, the course might be one of the morepopular ones in school.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Romping through history and folk customs, Bill Bryson hascompiled a highly entertaining book about the growth ofAmerican English ... Enjoy it, learn from it, laugh at thefoibles of our peculiar tongue.
People
Read this lively treatment of the development of American English . . . this book is no lemon—It's a peach!
Wall Street Journal
From slavery, immigration and Westward expansion to advertising, sex and shopping malls, he provides scads of fascinating, often little-known facts and anecdotes that, far from glutting his reader's appetites, should leave them hungry for more.
Washington Post Book World
Delightful . . . relentlessly, exuberantly informative . . . a potted history of the United States, presenting aspects of American life from cooking to swearing, from warring to shopping.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bryson offers a playfully anecdotal account of the etymology of distinctive words and phrases that help to create a distinctly American English. Mar.
Library Journal
Journalist Bryson (Mother Tongue, Morrow, 1990) presents an engagingly written chronological history of the United States, focusing on popular culture and language. Along the way, he attempts to explain why American English is the way it is-why Americans paint the town red, talk turkey, keep a stiff upper lip, etc. He puts individual words and expressions in their social context as well as presenting well-researched and thoughtful discussions of our discovery and colonization of the New World, the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, westward expansion, the age of invention and industrialization, modern politics and war, popular culture, and the current state of American English. This is a page-turning trip across linguistic America that takes many deliciously discursive side trips. For Bryson's wonderfully sane and reasoned discussion of the issues surrounding "politically correct" language alone, this book is a worthwhile read. Highly recommended for collections large and small.-Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., Me.
From Barnes & Noble
This informal history of American English explains why we "paint the town red," "talk turkey," "take a powder," and seek out "the real McCoy." Thousands of strange & wonderful observations from the American journalist living in England who authored The Mother Tongue.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380713813
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 109,622
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is the bestselling author of At Home, A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, winner of the Aventis Prize. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.

Biography

A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Read an Excerpt

The Mayflower
and Before


The image of the spiritual founding of America that generations of Americans have grown up with was created, oddly enough, by a poet of limited talents (to put it in the most magnanimous possible way) who lived two centuries after the event in a country three thousand miles away. Her name was Felicia Dorothea Hemans and she was not American but Welsh. Indeed, she had never been to America and appears to have known next to nothing about the country. It just happened that one day in 1826 her local grocer in Rhyllon, Wales, wrapped her purchases in a sheet of two-year-old newspaper from Boston, and her eye was caught by a small article about a founders' day celebration in Plymouth. It was very probably the first she had heard of the Mayflower or the Pilgrims. But inspired as only a mediocre poet can be, she dashed off a poem, "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers (in New England)," which begins

The breaking waves dashed high
On a stern and rock-bound coast
And the woods, against a stormy sky,
Tneir giant branches toss'd

And the heavy night hung dark
The hills and water o'er,
Men a band of exiles moor'd their bark
On the wild New England shore

and carries on in a vigorously grandiloquent, indeterminately rhyming vein for a further eight stanzas. Although the poem was replete with errors—the Mayflower was not a bark, it was not night when they moored, Plymouth was not "where first they trod" but in fact marked their fourth visit ashore—it became an instant classic, and formed the essential image of the Mayflower landing thatmost Americans carry with them to this day.*

The one thing the Pilgrims certainly didn't do was step ashore on Plymouth Rock. Quite apart from the consideration that it may have stood well above the high-water mark in 1620, no prudent mariner would try to bring a ship alongside a boulder in a heaving December sea when a sheltered inlet beckoned nearby. If the Pilgrims even noticed Plymouth Rock, there is no sign of it. No mention of the rock is found among any of the surviving documents and letters of the age, and indeed it doesn't make its first recorded appearance until 1715, almost a century later.1 Not until about the time Ms. Hemans wrote her swooping epic did Plymouth Rock become indelibly associated with the landing of the Pilgrims.

Wherever they landed, we can assume that the 102 Pilgrims stepped from their storm-tossed little ship with unsteady legs and huge relief They had just spent nine and a half damp and perilous weeks at sea, crammed together on a creaking vessel small enough to be parked on a modern tennis court. The crew, with the customary graciousness of sailors, referred to them as puke stockings, on account of their apparently boundless ability to spatter the latter with the former, though in fact they had handled the experience reasonably well.' Only one passenger had died en route, and two had been added through births (one of whom ever after reveled in the exuberant name of Oceanus Hopkins).

They called themselves Saints. Those members of the party who were not Saints they called Strangers. Pilgrims in reference to these early voyagers would not become common for another two hundred years. Even later was Founding Fathers. It isn't found until the twentieth century, in a speech by Warren G. Harding. Nor, strictly speaking, is it correct to call them Puritans. They were Separatists, so called because they had left the Church of England. Puritans were those who remained in the Anglican Church but wished to purify it. They wouldn't arrive in America for another decade, but when they did they would quickly eclipse, and eventually absorb, this little original colony.

It would be difficult to imagine a group of people more ill-suited to a life in the wilderness. They packed as if they had misunderstood the purpose of the trip, They found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet, and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. Yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line. Among the professions represented on the Mayflower's manifest were two tailors, a printer, several merchants, a silk worker, a shopkeeper, and a hatter—occupations whose indispensability is not immediately evident when one thinks of surviving in a hostile environment.3 Their military commander, Miles Standish, Was so diminutive of stature that he was known to all as "Captain Shrimpe"4—hardly a figure to inspire awe in the savage natives, whom they confidently expected to encounter. With the uncertain exception of the little captain, probably none in the party had ever tried to bring down a wild animal. Hunting in seventeenth-century Europe was a sport reserved for the aristocracy. Even those who labeled themselves farmers generally had scant practical knowledge of husbandry, since farmer in the 1600s, and for some time afterward, signified an owner of land rather than one who worked it.

They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possible way: by dying in droves. Six expired in the first two weeks, eight the next month, seventeen more in February, a further thirteen in March. By April, when the Mayflower set sail back to England,* just fifty-four people, nearly half of them children, were left to begin the long work of turning this tenuous toehold into a self-sustaining colony.5


*The Mayflower, like Plymouth Rock, appears to have made no sentimental impression on the colonists. Not once in History of Plimouth Plantation, William Bradford's history of the colony, did he mention the ship by name. Just three years after its epochal crossing, the Mayflower was unceremoniously broken up and sold for salvage.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1 The Mayflower and Before 1
2 Becoming Americans 13
3 A "Democratical Phrenzy": America in the Age of Revolution 30
4 Making a Nation 48
5 By the Dawn's Early Light: Forging a National Identity 64
6 We're in the Money: The Age of Invention 82
7 Names 100
8 "Manifest Destiny": Taming the West 119
9 The Melting Pot: Immigration in America 134
10 When the Going Was Good: Travel in America 156
11 What's Cooking?: Eating in America 180
12 Democratizing Luxury: Shopping in America 206
13 Manners and Other Matters 219
14 The Hard Sell: Advertising in America 235
15 The Movies 248
16 The Pursuit of Pleasure: Sport and Play 263
17 Of Bombs and Bunkum: Politics and War 287
18 Sex and Other Distractions 304
19 From Kitty Hawk to the Jumbo Jet 324
20 Welcome to the Space Age: The 1950s and Beyond 334
21 American English Today 352
Notes on Sources 365
Select Bibliography 385
Index 395
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2001

    Great for Fans of Language

    Bill Bryson provides not only a history of English in the US, but many interesting sidelights of US History itself. With his wry humor, Bryson debunks (an Americanism derived from Bunkum) myths left and right. He begins with the Pilgirms (only a small part of who were Puritins) and goes through the political corectness movement of the late 20th century, examining the origin of words and phrases first spoken in America. Well written, funny and informative. What more could you want from a non-fiction work?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2000

    One of my absolute all-time favorite books

    OK - so this might not be as scholarly as Bill's 'Mother Tongue' (see 'two star' review below) and contains maybe one too many pages of word listings - but it's a wonderful read, and just as enjoyable as the earlier book. I've read my copy at least three times, and I've also found something that is a No-Brainer Automatic Gift Choice for any friend or family member with an inquisitive mind, an interest in US history and a birthday coming up. Do you want to know why Independence Day is really July 2nd? How close America really came to chosing German as a native language? This book is full of interesting and funny anecdotes told in Bryson's unique style and I would recommend it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2000

    This should be taught in the schools

    Narrowing his scope from the wide field described in 'Mother Tongue', Bill Bryson's 'Made In America' is a delightful romp through the English language and how it was rendered, tweaked and mutated to what we know today. Peppered liberally with related popular culture and historical ancedotes, this is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read. If high school English teachers (History teachers as well) would deviate from their dry curriculum for few weeks during the school year and teach from this book, it could truly ignite more than a few young writers' imaginations.

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    Posted November 12, 2008

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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