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By Hook Or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English [Paperback]

David Crystal
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
Price: 11.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 April 2008

A delightfully discursive, Bill Bryson-esque and personal journey through the groves and the thickets of the English language, by our foremost scholar of the history and structure of the English language.

David Crystal has been described (by the Times Higher Education Supplement) as a sort of 'latter day Dr Johnson', a populist linguist who has promoted the study of the English language in an academic and broadcasting career that has so far spanned 40 years and nearly 100 books.

Now he has written an engaging travel book of more general appeal. Inspired by W. G. Sebald's ‘The Rings of Saturn’ and by Bill Bryson's books, he has combined personal reflections, historical allusions and traveller observations to create a mesmerising (and entertaining) narrative account of his encounters with the English language and its speakers throughout the world – from Bangor to Bombay and from Stratford to San Francisco.

‘By Hook or by Crook’ is an attempt to capture the exploratory, seductive, teasing, tantalising nature of language study. As such, it will appeal to the ever-growing market who like to be entertained as well as instructed.

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By Hook Or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English + Spell It Out: The singular story of English spelling + How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning and Languages Live or Die
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (1 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007235577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007235575
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 575,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Crystal works from his home in Holyhead, North Wales, as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster. He published the first of his 100 or so books in 1964, and became known chiefly for his research work in English language studies. He held a chair at the University of Reading for 10 years, and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Product Description


‘Every page of Crystal’s book contains some linguistic curiosity or flight of fancy. He should go walkie-talkie more often. Another 100 books of this kind would not be too many.’ Financial Times

‘[An] excellent, discursive new book [by] one of England's greatest living language commentators…Crystal's accessible and lively style belies his academic rigour.’ The New Statesman

'[Crystal] is more than just the Dr Johnson of our age, a linguistic expert who never takes a day off from considering language in all its aspects, and even hears sheep bleat in a Welsh accent.' The Sunday Herald

'”By Hook or By Crook” is autobiographical-whimsical-quizzical-oddsandendsical.' Times Higher Education Supplement

'The book reads like a donnish Bill Bryson, a Bryson possessed with a maniacal passion for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language… This is stream of consciousness linguistics, a pied-piper-led dance down the byways of language…a compelling guide.' Independent

'splendidly discursive…This is a man so in love with words that he will happily hold up fellow motorists, and miss crucial turnings.' Independent on Sunday

About the Author

David Crystal has published over 90 books on the subject of the English language, including two encyclopaedias, 'The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language' and The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language'. His book, 'The Stories of English' (2004) was a bestseller for Penguin. He has lectured in linguistics all his life, first at Bangor, then at Reading and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales. He has also been a consultant, contributor or presenter on many radio and TV series (including 'The Story of English').

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A travel book for those who love words 16 July 2007
David Crystal has written an entertaining travelogue of selected part of (mostly) England and Wales. The reader accompanies Crystal as he meanders around various small towns (Haye on Wye, Stratford on Avon etc), finding many interesting places along the way and recounting many tales and anecdotes about place names and other linguistic curiosities. Crystal makes an amusing travel companion, perhaps with similarities to Michael Palin or Richard Bryson, and one gets the impression of a man with a fund of stories who would be a useful talking guide-book on any possible journey around Britain.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, it is difficult to see what happened to the Sebald inspiration claimed by the author. Sebald writes meditative, reflective books which lead the reader into contemplating the big issues of life and death - the actual locations and histories he recounts being almost incidental to the inner state of mind aroused along the way. This book on the other hand is an energetic tour through linguistic highways and byways, with fact after fact piled on in an almost random fashion, making it difficult to see the whole picture. By Hook or By Crook is definitely an entertaining read, but as with so many books about the origins of the English (or any other) language, unless one has a formidable memory for random facts, little of it will remain when the final page has been read. While the derivation of "Lichfield" for example is undoubtedly of passing interest, a week after reading the book I can recall little of it, nor can I quite see why I needed to know in the first place.

I read this book on holiday and it was perfect for picking up and putting down again a few minutes later. It does not demand too much in the way of concentration and would make an excellent gift for anyone with an interest in words and their meanings.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Divergent and entertaining book 15 Aug 2007
By Bluebell TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read a number of David Crystal's more scholarly books so this one was a surprise. It's a sort of stream of consciousness book by a person on a trip round eastern England and Wales who loves language and its interaction with the history of a country. It's full of interesting facts and observations and is a very enjoyable read. No theme is explored in any depth as the writer's divergent mind flits from one topic to another as his memories and knowledge are triggered by the places and people he visits. It's a book that can be read in snippets as the chapters are largely self-contained.
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Which in part, to be sad, I am. Some of the reading was as dull as village ditch water-not a tadpole in sight. Big sighs, put the bloody thing down and grumped a bit. But went back to read more. Cos he's yon clever bugger! I am not sure I would have called it a journey like, more an amble and if you treat it as such, rewarding it is. Plenty of ingestion required like the queer bithplaces of common words and such. A small criticism-the journey takes place in a small section of England. Mr Crystal, be a man and trek the length and breadth of the land and plumb why English is such a hybrid of contradictions and more cuckoo and crow than nightingale or hard working wren. A'm still getting over his son's Shakespeare on bloody toast. Wreaks haddock on the marmalade and mushy peas. Ah well, better go off feed pidgins and chook stottie at ta spuggies. Alreet clever cloggs I am in Australia-hurl vegemite museli at yon cockies.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect gift for the Hard-to-Please 23 Oct 2012
By Christopher H TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I agree with much said in the other highly positive readers' comments, although what I would add is that this is one of those all too rare books that you can give to people who are seemingly impossible to please.
Out of desperation I tried it on a relative who always finds something to grumble about when given a gift.
On this occasion he enjoyed the book immensely, telling me often afterward what a terrific read it was (although he did complain that there are not more books like it).
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