THE STORY OF ENGLISH IN 100 WORDS

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. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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NUTCRACKER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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