The Story of Ain't LP: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

Overview

Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by the editor Philip Gove, Webster's Third broke with tradition, adding thousands of new words and eliminating "artificial notions of correctness," basing proper usage on how language was actually spoken. The dictionary's revolutionary style sparked what David Foster Wallace called "the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars." Editors and scholars howled for Gove's blood, calling him an enemy of clear thinking, a great relativist who was ...

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Overview

Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by the editor Philip Gove, Webster's Third broke with tradition, adding thousands of new words and eliminating "artificial notions of correctness," basing proper usage on how language was actually spoken. The dictionary's revolutionary style sparked what David Foster Wallace called "the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars." Editors and scholars howled for Gove's blood, calling him an enemy of clear thinking, a great relativist who was trying to sweep the English language into chaos. Critics bayed at the dictionary's permissive handling of ain't. Literary intellectuals such as Dwight Macdonald believed the dictionary's scientific approach to language and its abandonment of the old standard of usage represented the unraveling of civilization.

Entertaining and erudite, The Story of Ain't describes a great societal metamorphosis, tracing the fallout of the world wars, the rise of an educated middle class, and the emergence of America as the undisputed leader of the free world, and illuminating how those forces shaped our language. Never before or since has a dictionary so embodied the cultural transformation of the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
“A compelling reminder of the cultural significance of words and word-making.”
BookPage
“A fascinating, highly entertaining cultural history that will enchant an audience beyond word nerds....Skinner nimbly, concisely—and without academic dryness—traces the everyday changes that shaped what came out of Americans’ mouths and into our dictionaries.”
Associated Press Staff
“An immensely entertaining history…Skinner manages to transform this somewhat arcane lexicographical dispute into a real page turner…Skinner ably and amusingly captures the hysterical tone of the bitter public quarrel while suggesting that it foreshadowed many of the arguments over values and standards that we’re still fighting about today.”
Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Skinner does a fine job detailing the controversy that greeted Webster’s Third, but he is even stronger when describing the internal politics at Merriam and the mechanics of revising a dictionary.”
Boston Globe
“A highly entertaining, thoughtful new book.”
Columbus Dispatch
“Skinner has written an entertaining book about a controversy that still lingers and throws light on how emotional our ties to language are….a funny and informative account.”
Booklist
"A compelling reminder of the cultural significance of words and word-making."
Weekly Standard
“…comprehensive and evenhanded, and written in a clear and jaunty style…What in less skilled hands might have been arid and parochial in David Skinner’s becomes a lively account of a subject of interest to anyone concerned about the English language in America.”
Financial Times
“Skinner is good on the development of 20th-century linguistics and on the interplay between America’s language and its sense of itself.”
New York Times Book Review
“An engrossing account of the continuing ruckus over Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.”
Harper's
“…spry cultural history”
New York Times
“[Skinner] provides well-argued critiques of the orthodoxies that define language studies”
New York Journal of Books
“Mr. Skinner weaves a true tale fascinating not just to linguists and lexicographers, but to anyone interested in the evolution of our language during a critical period in America’s History.”
Shelf Awareness
“...delightful new book on lexicography…Skinner leaves no doubt as to the importance of Webster’s Third as the game-changer in dictionary standards and the impetus for an American cultural metamorphosis.”
Hillsdale Collegian
The Story of Ain’t is a book about words, the national character, and the inevitability of change. And it’s so fun, you might not even realize that you’re joining the debate.”
Simon Winchester
“It takes true brilliance to lift the arid tellings of lexicographic fussing into the readable realm of the thriller and the bodice-ripper. With his riveting account…David Skinner has done precisely this, taking a fine story and honing it to popular perfection.”
Geoffrey Nunberg
“The flap over Webster’s Third in 1961 was a never-to-be-repeated episode in American cultural history…. David Skinner tells it brilliantly…as he brings to life the odd cast of characters who played a role in the affair.”
Christopher Buckley
“A fascinating account of a major paradigm shift in the American language, when a group of bold lexicographers decided to tell it like it is and causing a huge cultural rumpus. This is more than just a story about a new edition of a dictionary.”
P.J. O'Rourke
“David Skinner tells the tale of a great battle in the 1960s War Between the Real and the Ideal. It was a conflict with realists laying claim to idealism and idealists asserting realism and vice versa. Skinner makes it all clear.”
Toby Lester
“A cultural story as much as a linguistic one, teeming with colorful characters and big ideas, The Story of Ain’t is a must read for anybody who loves language.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062201508
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/9/2012
  • Edition description: Larger Pri
  • Pages: 479
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Skinner is a writer and editor living in Alexandria, Virginia. He writes about language, culture, and his life as a husband, father, and suburbanite. He has been a staff editor at the Weekly Standard, for which he still writes, and an editor of Doublethink magazine. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New Atlantis, Slate, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, and many other publications. Skinner is the editor of Humanities magazine, which is published by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary.

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