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Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language Hardcover – 8 Nov 2004


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; First Edition edition (8 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034083658X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340836583
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 22.3 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 141,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Humphrys has reported from all over the world for the BBC and presented its frontline news programmes on both radio and television, in a broadcasting career spanning forty years. He has won a string of national awards and been described as a 'national treasure'. He owned a dairy farm for ten years and has homes in Greece and London.

Product Description

Review

Humphrys is passionate about language - and very funny too (Rod Liddle)

an exquisite sensitivity to the misuse of the English language (The Sunday Times)

highly relevant book ... Three cheers (Sunday Express)

for all those who care about the English language (Ann Widdecombe, New Statesman)

You will have fun with this book (Guardian)

Book Description

Hugely popular presenter of Radio 4's Today and BBC1's Mastermind, John Humphrys writes a witty, potent call-to-arms to stop the widespread abuse of the English language.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Tealady2000 VINE VOICE on 5 Mar 2006
Format: Paperback
I have just read the other Amazon reviews of this book and I'd like to start by saying that I find it exasperating when people criticize an author for giving their personal opinion when that author states quite clearly at the start of the book that they are giving their personal opinion!
This is John Humphry's view of the sad decline in the correct use of English. He's not an academic, so this is not a rule book (though you may well learn something - I certainly did). He's an experienced journalist and broadcaster, and as such he is an expert at spotting when people use fancy words to say very little. There are some fantastic examples in here of advertising jargon and political guff. And he's not afraid to name and shame the worst offenders. The section on business-speak gives a mind-boggling selection of non-words. I have to confess that I now regularly threaten to 'de-individuate' my sons when they don't get ready quickly enough in the morning.
Humphrys accepts that English is constantly evolving and he acknowledges that he is intensely irritated by some linguistic developments that are happily accepted by others. There is certainly an element of Grumpy Old Man-ism here but personally I find that quite entertaining.
In summary this book is a personal view of the abuse and misuse of English. Keep that in mind and you won't go far wrong.
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81 of 87 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Nov 2004
Format: Hardcover
This has been a great read and is more than just waking up with John Humphrys in the morning. The book is funny and sharp in its capturing the essence of what our language is going through. I loved the bits where he takes the language of politicians and exposes the conscious manipulation. It's more than about politics;everyone who misuses language (and there are a lot of them about including himself) gets caught in his sights. But it's not a pedantic book. It's very entertaining.
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60 of 69 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 Nov 2004
Format: Hardcover
This really is a good book. I thought at first it was going to be a Humphry's rant, which it is but it is also very much more.The first half of the book is about mangling language. Humphreys cares passionately that language should be used to communicate and it upsets him when it does the opposite ,either deliberately or through neglect. He uses examples, written and spoken, from a variety of sources to illustrate mangling. however, I think the book is best when Humphrys shows us how politicians,advertisers and others deliberately mangle language to hide the truth or to communicate an idea so losely that they cannot be held accountable for it. He shows how language can be used to communicate along a spectrum running from clarity to deception. But he's not a pendant. He believes that almost every language rule can be broken as long as it is clear. Readers will also discover that they are not the only ones to listen to the weather forecast but hear nothing. Humphrys manages all of this with great humour.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Aspinall on 25 April 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book. Its author knows enough about our language to hold the reader's attention and make his points in a light-hearted, witty way.

Politicians, academics and celebrities' language is designed to achieve different things: from changing an opinion to forcing the case for war; from buying a useless product to offering support for twisted agendas.

They're all at it, the buggers.

The book points out some of the methods, and the culprits identified by the author are treated with gentlemanly restraint. Even Alistair Campbell gets off lightly, which bemused me. John Humphrys makes a crashing error, though.

He wrote that the flabby, convoluted language used by critics of modern art validates the art. No argument from me on that point, and he backed up his argument with examples. But Humphrys still refers to the garbage produced by Tracey Emin as "work". That is unforgivable. Describing her junk as "work" places it alongside long hours in the office or on the building site. Using that word validates her ludicrous offerings. He makes a sharp and lethal point with one sentence, and then destroys his clear thinking with only one word.

Work.

Using that word in that way appears to be an example of subtle - almost sub-concious -cap-doffing to people who have mistaken pretension for genius. It's only work if you would rather be doing something else.

Another small gripe is Humphrys' use of the semi-colon. He hardly bothers. Now that is okay. Semi-colons are a thing of choice. They do tend to loosen the belt of the prose, though. They let the writing breathe a bit.

I enjoyed reading this book. I felt that I had learned some things that were worth learning by reading it.

Much obliged to ya, guv.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Yahshua on 7 Feb 2011
Format: Paperback
In 1946, Orwell launched his essay 'Politics and the English Language' with the words:
'Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way'.
Familiar territory then. But while Orwell gave us a little over 5,000 words, Mr Humphreys has spun his message out to 330 pages.
Orwell even provides a 90 word summary:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Mr Humphreys, (iii) is good!!
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