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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Lost For Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language
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on 17 March 2017
I spent a lot of time saying "Oh yes" - as his views resonated with me.
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on 19 August 2015
Good book
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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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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 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 August 2011
Having been an avid listener to John Humphrys' for many years, the thought of him lost for words left me puzzled; there have been times when I asked him (out loud in the car) to stop talking so that I could hear the interviewee but lost for words? Never.
Without going into the detail of some other reviewers, he looks at the many ways in which language can be mangled and manipulated, sometimes accidentally by those who know no better, sometimes deliberately by those who know very well. For those who know no better, various suggestions are put forward, and for future generations.
For those who know what they are doing or whose profession it is to manipulate language fro specific purposes, I suspect that is why we need the Paxman, Humphreys and Naughties of this world, not to mention the Robin Days from whom they learned a lot.
For those who enjoy Humphrys, it is an enjoyable, personal insight into his views on language.

"Composite words like 'ongoing' and 'upcoming' are not only ugly: they are redundant" (P 108), a word not apllicable to Humphrys.

An enjoyable read.
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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 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 5 September 2014
This is fantastic. No punches pulled and have to say I agree with almost every word which say a lot. Certainly recommend to any one.
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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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