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The author of The Stories of English (2004) and other volumes devoted to the nature and history of our language returns with a gem that sparkles with information about how English grows, changes, adopts and plays.

In the final sentence of his latest book, noted linguist Crystal (Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language, 2010, etc.), calls himself a “word buff”—that’s a bit like calling Versailles a house. The author ably exploits a terrific idea—teaching 100 lessons about English by picking out 100 words from our history, telling us their origin story and showing us how they’ve changed and spawned. Roughly chronological—beginning in the fifth century, ending in the 21st—Crystal’s text begins with what may be the first written word in our language, raihan, the word for roe-deer, and ends with something awfully recent, twittersphere. In between are not just the stories of individual words but the stories of how words become words. Why do we sometimes spell yogurt with an –h? Has there always been a difference between disinterested and uninterested? Why do only poets use certain words like swain? Where did OK and gotcha and app and LOL come from? What about the meanings of muggle before J.K. Rowling? Crystal may have written the only book in recent history that mentions the spelling of potatoes but does not drag in poor Dan Quayle. Younger readers may be surprised to read that dude dates to the 19th century, that UFO has more than 20 different meanings and that unfriend has a history antedating Facebook. Throughout, Crystal highlights the playfulness of English and its refusal to take itself too seriously. Snack-sized chapters with banquet-sized satisfaction.


Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00346-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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