The Story of English in 100 Words

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In this entertaining history world?s most ubiquitous language, linguistics expert David Crystal draws on one hundred words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular since the word "roe" was written down on the bone ankle of a roe deer in the fifth century. Featuring ancient words (?loaf?), cutting-edge terms that reflect our world (?twittersphere?), indispensable words that shape our tongue ("and", ...

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The Story of English in 100 Words

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In this entertaining history world’s most ubiquitous language, linguistics expert David Crystal draws on one hundred words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular since the word "roe" was written down on the bone ankle of a roe deer in the fifth century. Featuring ancient words (‘loaf’), cutting-edge terms that reflect our world (‘twittersphere’), indispensable words that shape our tongue ("and", "what"), and more fanciful words ("fopdoodle"), David Crystal takes readers on a tour of the winding byways of our language via the rude, the obscure, and the downright surprising.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From pre-eminent British linguist Crystal (The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language) comes this delightful history of the words we use (and some we’ve forgotten) and how we came to use them. Neither a wordbook nor a linguistic history, Crystal emphasizes that his selections demonstrate how English—“a vacuum cleaner of a language”— developed by sweeping up words from other languages These “loanwords” range from “street” (from the Latin strata) to “dame” (with a complex history as an indicator of social status) from the French. Moving chronologically from “roe” (fifth century) to “Twittersphere (21st century), Crystal spells out each word’s origin; the word’s sometimes-roundabout journey to the present-day meaning is explored, and often grammatical conundrums are answered. Case in point: why is there a “b” in “debt,” as its origin was the French word dete (or dette)? Blame scholars who wanted sophistication and drew from the Latin debitum. Crystal also touches on the coining of new words when the mood strikes, citing famous examples in Shakespeare and Joyce as well as the crop of technology-inspired neologisms. Crystal’s enthusiasm for—and wealth of knowledge about—the ever-evolving English language makes this a must-read for word lovers. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
The author of The Stories of English (2004) and other volumes devoted to the nature and history of our language returns with a gem that sparkles with information about how English grows, changes, adopts and plays. In the final sentence of his latest book, noted linguist Crystal (Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language, 2010, etc.), calls himself a "word buff"—that's a bit like calling Versailles a house. The author ably exploits a terrific idea—teaching 100 lessons about English by picking out 100 words from our history, telling us their origin story and showing us how they've changed and spawned. Roughly chronological—beginning in the fifth century, ending in the 21st—Crystal's text begins with what may be the first written word in our language, raihan, the word for roe-deer, and ends with something awfully recent, twittersphere. In between are not just the stories of individual words but the stories of how words become words. Why do we sometimes spell yogurt with an –h? Has there always been a difference between disinterested and uninterested? Why do only poets use certain words like swain? Where did OK and gotcha and app and LOL come from? What about the meanings of muggle before J.K. Rowling? Crystal may have written the only book in recent history that mentions the spelling of potatoes but does not drag in poor Dan Quayle. Younger readers may be surprised to read that dude dates to the 19th century, that UFO has more than 20 different meanings and that unfriend has a history antedating Facebook. Throughout, Crystal highlights the playfulness of English and its refusal to take itself too seriously. Snack-sized chapters with banquet-sized satisfaction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250024206
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 359,806
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet 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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