- Paperback: 284 pages
- Publisher: Profile Books Ltd; Main edition (5 July 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1846684285
- ISBN-13: 978-1846684289
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Story of English in 100 Words Paperback – 5 Jul 2012
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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 2011-10-29)
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)
An eye-opening tour of the English language through the agesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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".Read more ›
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.
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.
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"
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Judicious mix of academe and enjoyment. Excellent for both a quick dip-in and for more sustained study.Published 7 months ago by Le Mec
A very interesting and entertaining way to learn about the origins and development of our languagePublished 17 months ago by Colin C