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on 13 May 2012
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".) It's interesting to learn that the words "lord" and "lady" derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word for a loaf of bread, which speaks volumes about the subsistence level of the Medieval English economy--such people were important because they controlled the food supply, not just because they owned bags of gold.

Another, similar book, which I took up after finishing Crystal's work, is The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, which performs a similar service, albeit in a more pointedly witty way.
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on 31 July 2012
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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on 21 August 2012
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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on 18 September 2012
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 January 2013
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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on 2 October 2012
I'm a fan of David Crystal's works because of my interest in etymology. This work, though, is as much about the future as the past, highlighting the fluid nature of language. Words are continually deprecated, added, changed, trimmed, merged (I'm sure there are proper linguistic terms for this but I'm no expert), and their meanings and usage continually evolve. This is not a new phenomenon as the examples show. A lot of focus is given to new media, for example Twitter, showing how they accelerate this process. Some neologisms even I was unaware of.
I'd always viewed the history of language as distinct from the traditional "history" discipline. I'd regarded today's English as the pinnacle of linguistic evolution. Maybe watching Star Trek, based three centuries in the future but with the same lexicon and pronounciation, cemented my misconception. I now feel disconcerted because I realise that my English will also be history, and there's nothing I can do about it.
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on 17 August 2013
I bought this for one of my sons, who is very interested in language/words and how they have developed. I started to read this before he could get his hands on it. It's in small chapters so is great to read in little bites - our copy has been on the window sill in the loo for some weeks and actually is a very good book for reading in those circumstances. Sorry if David Crystal is insulted by this but no denigration of his book is intended as loo reading has to be interesting, humourous and brief and The Story of English in 100 Words is all of those and more.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 24 August 2014
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! So I think I'll want a paper copy next time.

This is just brilliant if you're interested in words and language, as I am on a less-than-scholarly level.

Some fascinating words are discussed, their history and uses and related words. From 'hello' to 'dude' and 'robot' all the way to a particular 'c' word, absolutely fascinating history. I like the historical words more. The older ones surprised me.

A good dip-in read but also great straight through. Nice audio narration as well by the author. Personable, humorous and extremely well researched.
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on 1 December 2013
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. I also would highly recommend 'Spell it out' by David Crystal- another brilliant book!
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on 25 February 2013
This is a fun book for people who are interested in language, written in 100 small chunks, best suited for reading bit by bit, such as during a morning commute. In discussing 100 words of the English language, Crystal makes interesting comments on a wide variety of phenomena related to the words of a language: how words are coined, how they are borrowed from other languages, how they are used in various social contexts, how they change their meanings over time, how they come in and out of fashion. It is easily accessible for the non-specialist, and an entertaining read for anyone.
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