Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English

by John McWhorter


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A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar

Why do we say “I am reading a catalog” instead of “I read a catalog”? Why do we say “do” at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Language distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.

Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century ad, John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor. Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English— and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for (and no, it’s not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592404940
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/27/2009
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 169,562
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John McWhorter is the author of the bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, and four other books. He is associate professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a contributing editor to The City Journal and The New Republic. He has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and has appeared on Dateline NBC, Politically Incorrect, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
NJT_Transiter More than 1 year ago
A very easy and engaging read for what seems to be a very dry subject. I never got bored. McWhorter has a nice ability to keep you wondering what he is going to say next. He also doesn't just spew facts but gives you the history and reason for certain quirks in English. I get a little kick when I sometimes hear a word and can speculate on the reason it entered the language the way it did. Thoroughly enjoyed this book.
WriterAtTheSea More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully written historical assessment of the evolvement of the English language, with all of its quirks and perplexities. A wonderful, even humorous exploration of the oddities surrounding the English language--it's syntax, grammar and vocabulary. I enjoyed this immensely!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not just for students of English or the written/spoken word. Interesting background on why we speak and write the way we do. Especially liked it because I was trained that when the gender of a subject is unknown, male pronouns are used. I was also taught that pronouns needed to match subject numbers ("Anyone interested should have his . . . " rather than "Anyone interested should have their . . . ") Author is witty and educated and the read is enjoyable and easy.
Barry Gilmour More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up on a whim. suffice to say that I have thouroughly enjoyed reading it. Mr. McWhorter's writing style made this book entertaining and informative all at once. Chock full of examples of how the English language has evolved over the centuries, it is a historical journey of the language we take for granted. The author shows examples of the various changes wrought upon the language by invading hordes and indigenous peoples. If you're only goin to buy one non-fiction book this year, make it this book. You'll be (there's that redundant be word!) pleasantly surprised.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read (or started reading) other histories of English, but this is the best. Mc Whorter looks beyond the usual vocabulary-driven analysis to look at the story of English's bizarre grammar and syntax--and does it all with style, clarity and humor while still being thorough. If this is the kind of thing you like, you'll like this.
kylljoi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a Lit. major... I geekgasmed for this book. the casual tone of McWhorter makes the details of the research utterly memorable.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short but very interesting historical look at English -- not an overview, but a specific consideration of the ways in which English grammar has diverged from that of the other Germanic languages. This, McWhorter proposes, reflects the underlying influence of Celtic. What happened to the Celtic language(es) presumably spoken by most of the inhabitants of Britain at the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions is a tantalizing question that most histories of the language brush over. McWhorter doesn't; his argument is interesting, but I still wonder if Celtic could have had that much grammatical impact with so little impact on the lexicon.
Georg.Miggel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book with some new theories about the development of the English language from its Germanic roots. I like his comparisons of the members of the ¿gang¿ and even more since I am familiar with two of them (ok, one and a half). McWhorter shows without any prejudice that not only all human beings are equal but also all languages though they are very different. It¿s an interesting point that a language with an ¿easy¿ grammar might be a bigger challenge for the speaker and that the English ¿meaningless do¿ really is as meaningless as our ¿der/die/das¿. As a pedant I can¿t stop here. So just some petty criticism without substantial weight. 1. Call me humourless but I don¿t need cheap jokes to read a scientific book. When he cites Shakespeare he does not need to tell me that Shakespeare did not refer to ¿Sports Illustrated¿ when he mentions a ¿magazine¿. 2. ¿Ich tue vielleicht den Sack aufschneiden¿ is not an ¿option¿, not even in a grammatical sense. That¿s a sentence you would only tolerate coming from a toddler, but it just isn¿t German even if all the single words are correct. 3. How to proof that the Phoenicians were in Germany and/or Denmark to teach us idiots good Phoenician grammar? One of the Phoenician Gods was called ¿Baal¿. And one of our Germanic Gods was called ¿Balder¿. Not exactly compelling if you consider that the Phoenicians as well as the Gotes had hundred of Gods and it would be more astounding if there were not two of them with similar names
crazybatcow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect: a bit of a background on why English is the kind of language it is. Not particularly surprising or novel, but it was interesting enough to pass the time. English seems to be different from it's "related" languages and the author is quite, err, let's say adamant (rather than ranting) about the Celtic impact on English. Yes, he does admit that traditional scholars disagree and offers his own "evidence" but it isn't this disagreement with the establishment that got a little annoying but his repetitive "digs" on the subject.
TheDivineOomba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is a quote, I forget who said it, or where It came from, but it essentially goes like this "Thomas Jefferson built this addition, but we don't actually know if he ever went into it because he never wrote about it in letters". If anyone knows who said this, or the actual quote, please let me know.This is what this book is about. How the language most likely changed, but you can't depend on the writing because only a few people could write, and the writing was in a formal way, not spoken by the common people.Its interesting. Mr. McWhorter definitely has the academic arrogance going on - where he can dis other Linguists in the field while at the same time praising him for due diligence.Its a good book, it will leave you thinking about languages and how they can change over the years, even taking on aspects of a neighboring language if the situation is right. Its also a fairly easy read - you don't need to know how grammar works to be able to read this book.
goodnightmoon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I looked forward to reading this book much more than I actually enjoyed reading it. I found McWhorter's tone odd, especially in the Celtic bits - like he was trying to dissuade me of a belief I never had. I just want to find out more about the history of English, man; I never doubted that English was influenced by the Celts. And many of the references and explanations were clipped or nonexistant - like when he wrote that because of all the modern Germanic spellings of "daughter," linguists can figure out that the original Proto-Germanic word was daukhtro. And then he moves on! Whoa - I want to know how they know that. I felt like I had missed the introductory course and was now in 201.All in all, despite interesting tidbits, the book read more like an academic persuasive essay, better suited to linguists themselves than to curious lay-people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
McWhorter lays out a well reasoned analysis of how English became the language we speak today, rife with examples of how the Celts, Vikings, and Phoenicians impacted the language we speak today. The convetsational tone of the book make it easy to read while still leaving many significant ideas to ponder.
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