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By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English

By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English

by David Crystal

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Linguist Crystal (How Language Works) elucidates the "serendipitous nature of language study" as he meanders from Wales to San Francisco by way of England and Poland, taking every opportunity for linguistic exploration. A somewhat rambling travelogue is paired with Crystal's idiosyncratic thought processes, and the book is full of descriptive anecdotes culminating in linguistic intrigue. Often something simple such as an impromptu "Good morning" from a Welsh shepherd is the trigger, in this case prompting the history of the shepherd's "crook" of the book's title. Crystal searches for-and finds-surprising topics in the lush cultures surrounding him, including the etymology of the name of a Welsh town which contains 58 letters (it's Llanfairpwll for short), causing him to speculate on why words containing "consonants like m, n, l, and r" are considered "the most beautiful," to discuss the "linguistic processes of a wordplayer" and to conclude with a version of Hamletin which every word begins with "h." In a conversational style that includes plenty of quirky facts, Crystal captures the "exploratory, seductive, teasing, quirky, tantalizing nature of language study," and in doing so illuminates the fascinating world of words in which we live. (May)

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Kirkus Reviews
Linguist Crystal (How Language Works, 2006, etc.), whose learned disquisitions have sometimes bewildered readers, lightens up with an inviting text combining the best features of travel writing, memoir and scholarship. On assignment for the BBC's "Voices" project, which aimed to record and celebrate Britain's many dialects and accents, the author traveled around the United Kingdom, beginning and ending in Wales. His wry humor is evident throughout, as in a passage about the origin of assembly-of-animal expressions like "a murder of crows"-among the new ones Crystal suggests is "a sulk of teenagers." Loosely arranged into "a linguistic travelogue," his account centers on the various communities he visited. Though the poet Shelley once claimed an assassin attacked him in Porthmadog, Crystal's own trip there was uneventful. While many Brits find the Birmingham accent ugly, the author notes that foreigners often describe it as melodious. In the town of Hay, Crystal explored its many antiquarian bookshops and visited the castle once occupied by the man who became the model for Shakespeare's Falstaff. Driving out of Lichfield, birthplace of Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, the author thought of an earlier trip to San Francisco, and the text segues into an exploration of the differences between American and British English. On the same drive, a straight stretch of road recalled the similarly rectilinear Piotrkowaska Street in Lodz, Poland's second-largest city, whose unconventional use of English in various shop signs Crystal discusses. He goes on to examine the 1960s TV show The Prisoner, Henry Higgins, Lady Godiva, the emergence of standard spelling, punctuation and usage, curious sayings(see the title), English around the globe, language games (an amusing retelling of Hamlet includes only words beginning with h) and the changes in vocabulary and spelling in the American editions of Harry Potter novels. An informative, transformative trip into the mysterious, mutating, magical thicket of English.

Product Details

The Overlook Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.29(w) x 9.21(h) x 1.13(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and the editor of The Penguin Encyclopedia.

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