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Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling [Paperback]

David Crystal
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 6 Sep 2012 --  

Book Description

6 Sep 2012

Why is there an 'h' in ghost? William Caxton, inventor of the printing press and his Flemish employees are to blame: without a dictionary or style guide to hand in fifteenth century Bruges, the typesetters simply spelled it the way it sounded to their foreign ears, and it stuck. Seventy-five per cent of English spelling is regular but twenty-five per cent is complicated, and in Spell It Out, our foremost linguistics expert David Crystal extends a helping hand to the confused and curious alike.

He unearths the stories behind the rogue words that confound us, and explains why these peculiarities entered the mainstream, in an epic journey taking in sixth century monks, French and Latin upstarts, the Industrial Revolution and the internet. By learning the history and the principles, Crystal shows how the spellings that break all the rules become easier to get right.

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Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling + The Story of English in 100 Words + The Stories of English
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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (6 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846685672
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846685675
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 3.2 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 72,835 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


Praise for The Story of English in 100 Words:

'Crystal's book is full of distractions and delights

(Daily Express)

Delicious revelations ... Crystal does an excellent job (Independent on Sunday)

One of [Crystal's] best ... it builds gradually into a kind of linguistic tapestry, packed with abstruse information, wonderfully readable (Spectator)

Entertaining ... Crystal's many examples show that the development of English spelling is as random, unsystematic and anomalous as the British constitution. English spelling is as rich a mixture of anachronism, privilege and fashion as the House of Lords (Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times)

A prolific author...he can write with authority on trends in the spelling of rhubarb and indeed on the history of the spelling of any tricky word you care to mention. For him, the patterns are clear... highly entertaining. (Observer)

Spectacular (Readers Digest)

A prolific author...highly entertaining to read (Nicholas Clee Observer)

This masterly book is a deft guide with a light touch (Harry Mount TLS)

A spelling book with a difference (Yorkshire Gazette and Herald)

Crystal's splendid book, the latest in a long line by this prolific language truffler, proceeds chronologically, deep in learning and characteristically light on its feet. (Marcus Berkmann Daily Mail)

A Must Read...An entertaining and fascinating study of how English spelling became so wildly inconsistent. (Sunday Times)

The chaotic yet enthralling story of British spelling through the ages (Bookseller)

Wonderfully erudite but entertaining (Saga)

Book Description

An enlightening tour of English spelling that untangles 'stationery' from 'stationary' - and explains why the 'i before e except after c' rule is so misleading

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Final Answer 30 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A comprehensive account of the development of English spelling over the past thousand years that explains exactly what happened and why. A key text for anyone teaching English, and of great interest to anyone who ever wondered why it is as it is. Brilliant scholarship, clear explanation - a very important book indeed, in fact one of the most important ever written about the English language.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING 13 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A real eye-opener of a book. Speaking and writing the language every day means you're thinking more about what
you're expressing rather than how you're expressing it. Once you start reading this book it really is hard to put down. Behind the (odd and quirky) spelling of a lot of words the author gives fascinating and logical reasons why certain words are spelt the way they are. Not only the spelling but also the pronunciation. If you are at all interested in the English language buy it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bravely facing a daunting task . . . 4 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a TEFL teacher in Portugal, I have always sympathized with students in their attempts to cope with the intricacies (or eccentricities) of English spelling. Here is a worthy attempt to throw light on a seemingly unfathomable aspect of the English language, a daunting task from which most of us would run a mile. This book is beautifully written, clear, concise and full of valuable nuggets of information. (I therefore disagree totally with the one-star reviewer.) Indeed, Prof. Crystal succeeds admirably in another daunting task, namely that of avoiding overly academic 'edubabble' while never once being guilty of condescension.

I have only one criticism and one 'niggle'. The criticism is that I was always waiting in vain for a chapter on the lack of diacritics, i.e. accents, in English. In Portuguese, whenever the stress is anywhere other than on the penultimate syllable, this is indicated by an accent. Hence 'cágado' (tortoise)is very different from 'cagado' (taboo: 'covered in excrement'). Meanwhile, students of English are left unaided to cope not only with the vagaries of English spelling but its vagaries of stress, e.g. 'famous/infamous'; 'advert/
advertisement'. In a book purporting to deal with the oddities of English written forms, this seems to me to be an omission. One may argue that diacritics do not actually affect spelling. But this to ignore the fact that the purpose of writing is essentially (with the possible exception of essay-writing for exams) to communicate something that will be read, either aloud or silently. Either way, in English a mystifying arrangement of letters is compounded by a total lack of information regarding syllable stress.

Oh yes, my niggle. I take issue with Prof.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's all the fault of the French... 24 Sep 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
OK it's not totally the fault of the French, but 1066 had a lot to do with how English spelling has evolved over time as have many other languages. Linguist David Crystal explores the evolution of English spelling in a remarkably easy to follow fashion with good humour and loads of examples and anecdotes. My one criticism is that inevitably, given the size of the task, this is quite a short volume and the bibliography for further reading is a tad sparse as well, so if you are already "into" language and spelling I'm not sure there is much that will be new to you here but for the casual reader this is a good introduction to the subject and is well worth a dip.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
When Professor David Crystal's new book "Spell It Out: the Singular Story of English Spelling" came out on 6 September 2012, a few weeks later it was a bestseller on Amazon, ahead of the erotic trilogy "The Fifty Shades of Grey". Cooking. Spelling. Sex. That was the order. English spelling sexier than sex! Could it have ever occurred to the Anglo-Saxon bards that we would come to this?

"Spell It Out" is more than a reader-friendly, comprehensible and comprehensive story of the history and evolvement of English spelling - Professor Crystal gives practical advice in Teaching Appendix as well as throughout the book. Memorising random lists of difficult words is not the solution as practice over ages has shown. The author believes and demonstrates that we need a linguistic take on getting to know the system which is not as bizarre and unassailable as popularly condemned; explaining is key, so is acquainting children with basic etymology at an early age. Professor Crystal is brilliantly convincing: "The story of the English writing system is so intriguing, and the histories behind individual words so fascinating, that anyone who dares to treat spelling as an adventure will find the journey rewarding."

In "Spell It Out", the many shades of English spelling are accurately examined, exposed, and entertainingly explained. And who but David Crystal could make English spelling more appealing and seductive a subject than "the office between the sheets"!

How many stars for this book? As many as there are spelling rules (and exceptions) in English!

For my full review see HuffPost UK Culture blog.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ah! That's why it's spelled that way... 27 May 2013
An excellent book about English spelling.

If you've ever wondered why certain words are spelled a certain way, why similar words have different arrangements, and why similar sounding words are spelled differently, David Crystal makes it clear by explaining word origins.

A complex subject has been turned into an easy read, with short, snappy chapters.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
I have never read such a witty, well-informed and wise explanation of the spelling systems of English - and without boasting, but hopefully to increase my credibility so that you... Read more
Published 27 days ago by Aurifex
5.0 out of 5 stars more excellence
another excellent bathroom book by david crystal.
Published 1 month ago by wrick
5.0 out of 5 stars His books were recommended by my university lecturers
You can't go wrong with David Crystal. His books were recommended by my university lecturers. Though academically sound, his books can be easily read by anyone with an interest in... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. E. Stapleton
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Excellent read
Published 1 month ago by M. Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very useful
Published 1 month ago by Josie Surgenor
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent. Very informative and easy reading.
Published 2 months ago by Annette
5.0 out of 5 stars Language Lover's Delight
This book manages to pull together so many different aspects about how spelling has developed, giving a coherent, lucid overview of the reasons why English looks like it does. Read more
Published 8 months ago by TMC
5.0 out of 5 stars Know what you speak.
If you want to know about the words we speak, this book will tell you. This book is the most informative and enlightening about our English language you will ever find.
Published 8 months ago by Mr. I. Evans
4.0 out of 5 stars Why do we spell the same sounding word differently?
The answers are all in the fascinating little book. I found it very absorbing and I can see that I shall use this book time and again to explain why certain words are given... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars well worth a read
David Crystal on language is always worth reading, and this book is no exception. His writing is clear, entertaining and articulate, and goes very thoroughly into the history of... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Elizabeth Bearman
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