Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling

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Overview

The fascinating and surprising history of English spelling from David Crystal, everyone's favorite expert logophile

With The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal took us on a tour through the history of our language. Now, with Spell It Out, he takes on the task of answering all the questions about how we spell: "Why is English spelling so difficult?" Or "Why are good spellers so proud of their achievement that when they see a misspelling they condemn the writer as ...

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Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling

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Overview

The fascinating and surprising history of English spelling from David Crystal, everyone's favorite expert logophile

With The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal took us on a tour through the history of our language. Now, with Spell It Out, he takes on the task of answering all the questions about how we spell: "Why is English spelling so difficult?" Or "Why are good spellers so proud of their achievement that when they see a misspelling they condemn the writer as sloppy, lazy, or uneducated?" In thirty-seven short, engaging and informative chapters, Crystal takes readers on a history of English spelling, starting with the Roman missionaries’ sixth century introduction of the Roman alphabet and ending with where the language might be going. He looks individually at each letter in the alphabet and its origins. He considers the question of vowels and how people developed a way to tell whether or not it was long or short. He looks at influences from other cultures, and explains how English speakers understood that the “o” in “hopping” was a short vowel, rather than the long vowel of “hoping”. If you’ve ever asked yourself questions like “Why do the words “their”, “there” and “they’re” sound alike, but mean very different things?” or “How can we tell the difference between “charge” the verb and “charge” the noun?” David Crystal’s Spell It Out will spell it all out for you.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word." Andrew Jackson might have been a major American president, but when he uttered this complaint, this backwoods boy might have been just rationalizing his own battles with spelling. This new book by jaunty linguist David Crystal (The Story of English in 100 Words) is much too entertaining to be a spelling tutorial, though undoubtedly it will enhance your ability to master our obstreperous language. Crystal's history of English spelling helps explain how its rules became so complicated and why they seem so peppered with exceptions. Editor's recommendation.

From the Publisher
Praise for The Story of English in 100 Words:

“The best word book to come down the pike in many a moon . . . An ingenious idea, and only David Crystal could have pulled it off." —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

“Brisk [and] exuberant . . . Crystal delights in exposing all the many wacky ways we English speakers make new words.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Kirkus Reviews
A noted linguistics scholar and prolific author asks and answers the question, "Why do we spell words the way we do?" Crystal (The Story of English in 100 Words, 2011, etc.) argues that many of the traditional ways we teach spelling (using lists of unrelated words, teaching homophones together) have just not worked; he suggests a more productive approach: explaining words linguistically to students--not a surprising suggestion from a linguist. He also notes how, when and why spelling became so important to us and why that's not likely to change. Crystal contends that social media and texting are not harming spelling; you cannot text effectively, he writes, if you cannot spell well. But the meat in his sandwich is the history of the English language, which he relates in swift, focused chapters that frequently conclude with an amusing quotation about spelling from a noted writer (Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Twain) or a cartoon from Punch magazine. He reminds us of our fundamental problem: We have too few letters in our alphabet (26) and too many sounds in our mouths (about 44). But it's even more complicated. Our gumbo of words from Latin, Anglo Saxon, Norman French and all the other languages from which we have borrowed--and from which we continue to borrow--makes learning how to spell so daunting. (The author does not discuss why spelling is easy for some and hard for others.) Crystal goes after the "rules" that many people learned as children ("i before e, except after c" and so on), noting that they are rarely useful and often patently false. He also notes the changes introduced by medieval scribes and early printers and the considerable and lingering effects of lexicographers Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster. An entertaining mixture of erudition, attitude and wit that crackles, spits and sparkles.
Library Journal
Linguistics scholar and author Crystal (Univ. of Wales; The Story of English in 100 Words) delves into the etymological and linguistic backgrounds of words—from their morphology to the influence of other languages over centuries—to create a witty and robust primer on English spelling and how it works. Many readers may be put off by the technical language if they aren't familiar with terms such as phonemes and morphemes, but Crystal's presentation is conversational, and those not deterred by the consonant phoneme chart will find the information well worth studying. VERDICT If Christopher Upward's The History of English Spelling is too academic, Crystal's technical study of a complex subject is accessible and will appeal to those with an interest in language, linguistics, or orthography. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]—Linda White, Maplewood, MN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250003478
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/18/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 127,957
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVID CRYSTAL is the author of The Story of English in 100 Words and 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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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2013

    I teach English as a Second Language to Adults and one of my old

    I teach English as a Second Language to Adults and one of my older students asked me why spelling in English is so hard. I knew part of the answer was that English has borrowed so many words from other languages. However, I didn't know the whole story until I read this book.
    David Crystal takes you on a historical yet logical tour on how English spelling became as convoluted as we know it today. An excellent book, extremely interesting and one that I have already recommended to others. The writing offers a very clear explanation step by step on why English spelling problems continue to this day.

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