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.