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VINE VOICEon 5 March 2006
I have just read the other Amazon reviews of this book and I'd like to start by saying that I find it exasperating when people criticize an author for giving their personal opinion when that author states quite clearly at the start of the book that they are giving their personal opinion!
This is John Humphry's view of the sad decline in the correct use of English. He's not an academic, so this is not a rule book (though you may well learn something - I certainly did). He's an experienced journalist and broadcaster, and as such he is an expert at spotting when people use fancy words to say very little. There are some fantastic examples in here of advertising jargon and political guff. And he's not afraid to name and shame the worst offenders. The section on business-speak gives a mind-boggling selection of non-words. I have to confess that I now regularly threaten to 'de-individuate' my sons when they don't get ready quickly enough in the morning.
Humphrys accepts that English is constantly evolving and he acknowledges that he is intensely irritated by some linguistic developments that are happily accepted by others. There is certainly an element of Grumpy Old Man-ism here but personally I find that quite entertaining.
In summary this book is a personal view of the abuse and misuse of English. Keep that in mind and you won't go far wrong.
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on 17 November 2004
This has been a great read and is more than just waking up with John Humphrys in the morning. The book is funny and sharp in its capturing the essence of what our language is going through. I loved the bits where he takes the language of politicians and exposes the conscious manipulation. It's more than about politics;everyone who misuses language (and there are a lot of them about including himself) gets caught in his sights. But it's not a pedantic book. It's very entertaining.
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on 25 November 2004
This really is a good book. I thought at first it was going to be a Humphry's rant, which it is but it is also very much more.The first half of the book is about mangling language. Humphreys cares passionately that language should be used to communicate and it upsets him when it does the opposite ,either deliberately or through neglect. He uses examples, written and spoken, from a variety of sources to illustrate mangling. however, I think the book is best when Humphrys shows us how politicians,advertisers and others deliberately mangle language to hide the truth or to communicate an idea so losely that they cannot be held accountable for it. He shows how language can be used to communicate along a spectrum running from clarity to deception. But he's not a pendant. He believes that almost every language rule can be broken as long as it is clear. Readers will also discover that they are not the only ones to listen to the weather forecast but hear nothing. Humphrys manages all of this with great humour.
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on 25 April 2007
I enjoyed this book. Its author knows enough about our language to hold the reader's attention and make his points in a light-hearted, witty way.

Politicians, academics and celebrities' language is designed to achieve different things: from changing an opinion to forcing the case for war; from buying a useless product to offering support for twisted agendas.

They're all at it, the buggers.

The book points out some of the methods, and the culprits identified by the author are treated with gentlemanly restraint. Even Alistair Campbell gets off lightly, which bemused me. John Humphrys makes a crashing error, though.

He wrote that the flabby, convoluted language used by critics of modern art validates the art. No argument from me on that point, and he backed up his argument with examples. But Humphrys still refers to the garbage produced by Tracey Emin as "work". That is unforgivable. Describing her junk as "work" places it alongside long hours in the office or on the building site. Using that word validates her ludicrous offerings. He makes a sharp and lethal point with one sentence, and then destroys his clear thinking with only one word.


Using that word in that way appears to be an example of subtle - almost sub-concious -cap-doffing to people who have mistaken pretension for genius. It's only work if you would rather be doing something else.

Another small gripe is Humphrys' use of the semi-colon. He hardly bothers. Now that is okay. Semi-colons are a thing of choice. They do tend to loosen the belt of the prose, though. They let the writing breathe a bit.

I enjoyed reading this book. I felt that I had learned some things that were worth learning by reading it.

Much obliged to ya, guv.
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VINE VOICEon 6 December 2005
I fall somewhere in between these two reviews.
My wife thought that this book was excellent. I thought it was OK - like "The Closing of the American Mind", its problem is that it is too subjective - the author seems to be equating what he likes with what is right (and yes, as the first reviewer wrote, in "one-size fits all"). As a journalist, Mr Humphrys has the right to expect people to communicate effectively and accessibly when they face him. However, the same rules don't apply to other fields in which language is used. Of course, there are some circumstances when people hide their lack of brain, ideas, originality etc behind jargon. But there are other times when technical terms are used to communicate ideas that don't yet have common currency - that is how language develops. Humphrys seems to be unaware of this.
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on 1 May 2007
I was given this book, in its paperback edition, as a birthday gift. I'm normally a fiction reader and tend to veer away from anything that doesn't provide a bit of escapism from my normal life. This book, though, was a complete pleasure. It's a witty look at the dreadful iniquities being visited upon our language. If you want a book that instructs, illuminates, and causes you to laugh aloud (so embarrassing in public places), then I recommend you get a copy of "Lost for Words". Honestly, there were moments when I sounded like a hen laying a square egg - cackleworthy, indeed!
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on 10 September 2016
The first half of the book was quite interesting but not very exciting. It was only when you get to the last two chapters that the book gets exciting. You would not expect a book about language to be very exciting but this one actually made me quite cross when I read how much politicians had manipulated words like "war" to change anyone who had a more subtle approach to a topic into an enemy, eg. how can you legalise drugs if you are at war with them? It all seems quite 1984ish. Humphrys points out that politicians use business speak which in turn uses lots of phrases without verbs or without precise meaning, so, for instance, to 'modernise' the NHS means very little. He provides so many excellent examples that you wonder how he found them all, although he has an academic friend who claims you can just pick any academic book off a shelf and read off a paragraph of complete gobbledegook. Lucidity should be the measure of quality in language, Humphrys argues, and politicians and academics who do not use it should be held to account. John Prescott, apparently, was so clumsy with language that he could not possibly hide what he meant and everyone loved him for it because he was authentic. And there is a computer program that generates academic papers in gobbledegook. They all sound very plausible. I was left with a desire to find out more about Wittgenstein and a realisation that language might be much more important than we children of the sixties think.So, whereas for the first two hundred pages I wondered why someone as sensible as John Humphreys was rattling on about language for the last hundred and fifty I was convinced of a ruling classes conspiracy to cover up their vacuous roles by sleight of hand and misdirection. Not that John Humphrys said THAT of course. My copy was browning, but it was so up to date it could have been written yesterday.
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on 10 January 2005
I was very disappointed with this book - by setting himself to batter any other speaker than those select few RP speakers, Humphrys needs to be able to defend his views. Not only does he fail, he makes a real pig's ear of it and comes out looking like the slightly dull-brained BBC media pedant that I suspect deep-down he is.
His arguments are utterly unscholarly - he does not back up his points, nor provide evidence - the few times he does he is jarringly incorrect (being a scholar of English Language and Linguistics I know!)
His anecdotes are awkwardly rammed into paragraphs, many of which bear little relation to his already rambling arguments and often appear little more than an excuse to tell us how he met the famous x,y or z.
The idiocy of what he argues verges upon humour in places - citing the English Language as being 'overweight' with words. Again he doesn't elaborate on this bizarre opinion, nor provide any examples, nor provide any academic proof - indeed the 'overweightness' of our language is one its greatest beauties and powers.
Still after all this you'd expect at least such a linguistic pedant would at least have a good command of language and silvertongue his way out of an awful book, alas no - his style of writing is mind-numbingly basic and full of irritating features such as ungrammatical archaisms - desk-top pc, type-writer etc...
So do yourself a favour and buy a different book,
and say a little prayer for the poor proofreader of this trash...
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on 2 January 2005
I got this book for Christmas, being seen by my family as a keen supporter of the correct use of English, particularly grammar. I was disappointed with it. Humphrys' arguments are weak - his core argument is that not all rules are there to be followed, but he is unclear which ones he supports and why. His points are often ill-researched and are not backed with up with further evidence like quotations or examples.The text itself is peppered with annoyances like archaisms ("half-way") and unnecessary subheadings every few paragraphs. Potentially interesting subjects, like how language develops in young children, are only touched on and again are not well-researched.
Like many older know-it-alls, he seems to blame 'youth' for the decline in language. I'm 19 and found errors in his text, and i frequently find errors in the writing of my parents and university lecturers. I'd say the 'blame' lies with older people set in their ways andunwilling to allow language to change and grow.. but that's another argument entirely.
I'm only a quarter of the way through the book but I'm not really keen to finish it. For intelligent yet amusing reads on the subject, I'd recommend Bill Bryson and Lynn Truss. They make most of the same points as Humphrys but in a far more lucid and readable way.
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on 29 January 2006
This is a book for people who care passionately about the English language.
In the first part, the author shows how language is mangled. The second part shows how it can be used to manipulate people, the main culprits being the media, marketing people and politicians.
This is a very intelligent and thought-provoking book. The author's sense of humour also shines through from time to time.
The only down side for me is that the book is rather heavygoing. I found that I could read it only in bits and I often had to go back to reread certain parts, as I found it easy to lose the author's train of thought. Progress was so slow that it took me just over a year to finish the book.
You may not agree with all of the author's views (I certainly did not), but it is well worth reading it. I now find that I listen more attentively to newsreaders and politicians, analysing what they are really saying or not saying, not just listening to the words that they utter.
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