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on 10 November 2006
Lynne Truss's popular book "Eats Shoots and Leaves" has a sub-title "A Zero Tolerance Approach". David Crystal's book, with a fine blend of humour and a great deal of expertise in the subject, illuminates the fact that grumblings about "proper usage" have a history nearly as long as the language itself. This history is traced from Old English to modern times, meeting with some wonderful characters along the way, and also looks forward to the prospects in the future for the language and the teaching of it to our children. David Crystal does not take the zero tolerance approach of Lynne Truss, but neither does he have (as sometimes accused) an 'anything goes' approach either. In the book he advocates that a standard English is incredibly useful, whilst regional and international variations colour the language to its benefit. The thesis is that context and appropriateness is the thing, and the ability to use language in this manner is the key to shaping the teaching of it in schools.

The book is not a text book, and is more of a wry, sideways look at the subject which appears to be a hot current topic. It is written in a most entertaining way, and blows away the myth that our language is on the verge of collapse. A good fun read on a subject that might appear, on the surface, a little dry. An Antedote to zero tolerance.
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on 14 August 2008
There is a perception that David Crystal is some sort of woolly-headed liberal who doesn't care how people use language. In fact, he is acutely sensitive to the ways in which people use language, and is far too knowledgeable about the history of disputes about language to take Lynne Truss's foolish and bloody-minded book very seriously. Crystal describes how Truss's bestseller 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' is simply the last in a very, very long line of books about English usage that attempt to make rules about the language based more on distinctions between social class, than on actual transparency of meaning. Crystal professes to be baffled about the success of Truss's book, but I think he's just too polite to point out that Truss's book sold to millions of English people because of the comic vividness of its author's persona as a cantankerous cultural snob.

Crystal's book will probably not sell so well, because it advocates intelligence and learning rather than ill-informed class prejudice. It's a better book, though, because it actually teaches you something instead of reinforcing your prejudices. Not the least of its value is in pointing out the basic uselessness of style guides such as Fowler's Modern English Usage - Fowler is an author very close to my heart (I have all three editions of the book) but I have to admit the truth of Crystal's observation that correct English usage can only be properly learned in very early life, and all the style guides in the world will only really be of use later on in certain very rare cases.

Crystal is right; language changes. I regret the fact that 'imply' and 'infer' are coming to mean the same thing, as are 'refute' and 'deny' - but as a writer and editor I can do nothing to stop it from happening. All I can do is wave a flag in the rare cases where this linguistic shift might lead to dangerous confusion. But it doesn't happen very often. Kudos to Mr. Crystal; all his books are good, but this one is especially timely.
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on 2 June 2013
I like David Crystal's books and have read a fair number of them. His approach is to observe linguistic phenomena and to describe them in a non-judgemental way. This book is a bit of a departure from his usual style, as it is a polemic. He argues (cogently) that one should not be too judgemental about the way people use language, and one should differentiate between using appropriate language, whether that be RP or a particular dialect or register, and following rules blindly. I completely agree with him on all those points. The problem, nevertheless, is that this is a polemic. He is arguing with those people who think otherwise, and since I am not one of them, I found the book a bit dull. So, if you are someone who hates split infinitives, and bemoans sentences ending in a preposition, buy this book and give yourself a heart attack... Otherwise, choose a different, more informative book by this prolific author.
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on 31 January 2014
An interesting history of challenges to the English language and how there has always been someone shouting about how standards have suddenly started slipping. It certainly softened my stance on what is "grammatically correct". You can judge for yourself whether that is a good thing or not!
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on 7 March 2009
Another great book by David Crystal: informative, edifying and very entertaining. He truly does make language come to life and also a pleasure to learn about. And rather than being a language pedant stuck in an earlier time, it is refreshing to read of an expert who is not afraid to say that language evolves.
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on 13 November 2007
In 'The Euthyphro' Socrates exposes the ignorance of a self-proclaimed religious expert. In this book David Crystal offers the same service to those who, for centuries, have set themselves up to tell the rest of us how to speak our own language. It comes as no surprise to learn from this book that they attack each other almost as much as they attack us mortals.

David Crystal has that rare skill of communicating with clarity but without compromising academic rigour. He is respected both by the Academy and John Humphrys; his occasional detractors should keep taking the laxatives.
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on 7 September 2009
This is not the sort of book one grabs and reads from cover to cover, but it makes a lot of interesting points that require digesting.
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on 7 February 2017
Haven't read it yet, but I know I will love it because I enjoy David Crystal's work!
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on 23 January 2015
Crystal clear.
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on 22 May 2013
Crystal's prose is highly lucid and this book is an intellectual guide to the need for a descriptive not a prescriptive approach to language. Crystal's whimsical anecdotes are great fun. I would recommend this book to all aspiring language students.
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