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Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling Paperback – 6 Sep 2012

67 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (6 Sept. 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 (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 119,874 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

See all Product Description

Inside This Book

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mr. J. J. Bald on 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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By starchy97 on 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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Big Jim TOP 100 REVIEWER on 24 Sept. 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By robert francis on 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Annie Martirosyan on 1 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback
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 By The Faraway Tree on 27 May 2013
Format: Paperback
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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