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The Story of English in 100 Words [Paperback]

David Crystal
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 July 2012

Featuring Latinate and Celtic words, weasel words and nonce-words, ancient words ('loaf') to cutting edge ('twittersphere') and spanning the indispensable words that shape our tongue ('and', 'what') to the more fanciful ('fopdoodle'), Crystal takes us along the winding byways of language via the rude, the obscure and the downright surprising.

In this unique new history of the world's most ubiquitous language, linguistics expert David Crystal draws on words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular since the first definitively English word was written down in the fifth century ('roe', in case you are wondering).

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (5 July 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1846684285
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846684289
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,079 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


'Crystal's book is full of distractions and delights' -- Daily Express

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

'If the history of language is a sort of labyrinth, David Crystal is an excellent guide' -- The Age, Australia

'Delicious revelations ... Crystal does an excellent job, not just of tracing the etymology of a word, but of relating it to social history, painting a picture of our times through words' --Independent on Sunday

Book Description

An eye-opening tour of the English language through the ages

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
The "Story of English in 100 Words" is intended to merge two approaches to writing about the English language. One approach is to discuss themes and trends within major periods of development, as author David Crystal has done in other volumes. Another approach involves "wordbooks" or "phrase books" that examine the etymology of particular words or the origins of certain phrases. In an effort to reconcile these two techniques, Crystal has selected the 100 words he offers here because each tells part of the story of how the English language developed, all the way through to contemporary usage.

Crystal largely succeeds in his attempt, though I think the result still ends up being more of an etymology book than a systemic history of English. Still, it's a fun and highlighy readable narrative, and as a bonus you'll actually learn the stories of far more than 100 words--while each of the 100 chapters uses a single word as its starting point, Crystal introduces many other words and phrases for illustration and comparison.

There are plenty of illuminating moments. Chapter 4, for example, explores the history of the word "loaf", a word that started out as the Anglo-Saxon "hlaf" during the 9th Century. The head of a household was a "hlaf-weard," literally a bread warden; the woman of the house was a "hlaefdige," a bread-kneader (the word "dige" is related to the modern "dough"). Hlaf-weard changed in the 14th century, as people quit pronouncing the "f", leading eventually to "lahrd" and finally to "lord." (Although Crystal doesn't mention it in this book, the Anglo-Saxon "hlaefdige" gradually evolved into "lady".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant 21 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a great tour of the developments of the English lexicon through 100 key words - lots of which are just a representative of the type Crystal is discussing - I have a degree in English Language and this has reawakened my love for all things wordy!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth it!! 31 July 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As ever and expected from David Crystal, a highly entertaining and informative book for those with an interest in the history of English. Linguists might know most of the historical aspects already, but for the general reader this book contains a wealth of information written in a lively style. It's also nice to see a little of the personal side of the author in the choices rather than just the highty entertaining factual writing style that those who are familiar with his work know.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Logophiles will enjoy this book 20 Jan 2013
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Like the two volumes of Foyle's Philavery which I have reviewed on Amazon earlier, this volume, by an author who has written twelve other books about the English language, makes another pleasant and entertaining gift for logophiles. Here, too, you come across some words (bone-house, bodgery, dragsman, mipela, doobry, bagonize, chillax), though nothing like as many as in the Philavery volumes - but then the purpose of this book is different: it is to show when familiar words first appeared, how in some cases the spelling has changed, how words have evolved over the years and how new words - some ephemeral, some enduring - are constantly being coined. It may not be all that interesting to discover when a word was first used, and again only a few of those evolutions - like how "glamour" evolved from "grammar" or what "lunch" originally meant - are surprising. Crystal has collected many modern coinages - acronyms, abbreviations, slang - some of which are familiar (especially those deriving from the internet), while others will not be - Obamabots, for example: people who robot-like support Barack Obama, for instance. There are also several references to regional words, used only in parts of the United Kingdom. He also has passages on American English, Australian English, pidgin English etc.

Although there are 100 sections, each with one word as its title, in fact Crystal uses many of them as triggers to talk about a great many other words. So, to give just one example, in the article headed "lakh" we also have references to "godown", "bungalow", "dungaree", "guru" and no fewer than 50 other words which English has borrowed from Indian or Arabic, or which Indian English has invented. So there is a lot of information in this book, and Crystal's enthusiasm, breadth of knowledge, and ruminations about language are very engaging.

See also my Amazon review of the author's "Spell It Out"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling Journey 18 Sep 2012
By Dipper
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Reading anything from David Crystal, the acknowledged world leader in the study of the English language, is always a thrill and 'The Story of English in 100 Words' is no exception. He takes us on an exciting journey from the first known written work of the earliest form of English, scratched on the ankle bone of a Roe Deer in the early fifth century via Chaucer, Shakespeare, Johnson, and dozens of other writers (referring to dozens, if not hundreds of other words besides the 100 of the title) right up to present day forms of txtng and journalism; not shrinking from the history of taboo words not usually written in full, if at all, in newspapers.

David Crystal shows us that language, and the English language in particular, is a living, ever-changing, adapting, absorbing creature, reflecting the historical, cultural and social situations in which it operates. The best evidence of this is his twice repeated use of what must be one of his favourite expressions, 'You ain't seen nothing yet!'

This is the sort of book you can read either right through fairly quickly, simply delighting in the author's use of the language he obviously loves, and getting a panoramic view of the language on the way, or as a reference work, stopping off to take in the detail at places that interest you, perhaps with help from the comprehensive index.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent fun
excellent bathroom book
Published 28 days ago by wrick
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 month ago by Josie Surgenor
5.0 out of 5 stars Our malleable language - tidbits of history and culture in an...
I finished a few days ago and already I want to reread this. It was a great audio read. Short chapters and so much of interest but very hard to absorb it all! Read more
Published 1 month ago by K. J. Noyes
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An interesting and easy to read book.
Published 1 month ago by Annette
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book always interesting
Published 2 months ago by K J THOMPSON
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting and just my cup of tea! Very prompt service.
Published 3 months ago by E.Z. Riter
3.0 out of 5 stars Good bogread
Quite interesting survey of English via the etymology of various words. Makes a good bogread ... now there's a word.
Published 6 months ago by Tiny Bulcher
5.0 out of 5 stars A celebration of the English language by an infectious fanatic
I just LOVED reading this book.

A few years ago I read Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Athan
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining
If you like words and the stories behind how langauge has developed, DC's writing offers plenty that will interest and intrigue - and this book is no excpetion. Read more
Published 8 months ago by TMC
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
David Crystal books are all fascinating to me, he also has a way of making it quite enjoyable to read without being too academic. Brilliant book for those interested in language. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Natcat
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