A passionate defense (or is it defence?) of the “fantastically flexible medium” that is English.

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THE PRODIGAL TONGUE

THE LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AMERICAN AND BRITISH ENGLISH

What is it about Americans’ way with words that makes Brits so angry? An American linguistics professor attempts to find out.

Murphy (Linguistics/Univ. of Sussex), who lives in Britain and writes the blog Separated by a Common Language, hears frequent complaints “about the wrecking ball that is American English.” In this book, she tries to understand how it became “Linguistic Public Enemy Number 1” and explains the phenomenon she calls amerilexicosis, “a pathologically unhinged reaction to American English.” As the author notes, many American phrases that proponents of British English detest come from Britain. The earliest uses of “might of,” considered an American monstrosity, “have been found in letters sent in England in the 1770s.” Murphy covers all the greatest linguistic hits—e.g., the -or/-our divide in words like “color”—but she tends to generalize: not every American or Brit speaks as she describes. Some of her examples, even in the service of legitimate points, leave room for debate. The author defends the supposedly American practice of turning nouns into verbs by writing, “people are tasked with doing things because that’s shorter than giving someone the task of doing something.” One might respectfully argue that “he asked me to clean my room” is shorter and better than “I’ve been tasked with cleaning my room.” But perhaps that speaks to Murphy’s thesis: English is full of inconsistencies and pitfalls, and no single set of standards is necessarily superior. This is an entertaining work that defends English’s so-called Americanization, and the author has a delightfully sardonic style, as when she tells Brits, “Americans call your football soccer because you taught them to….Soccer came from the full name of the game, association football. The word comes from England. You should be proud of it. There, that feels better.”

A passionate defense (or is it defence?) of the “fantastically flexible medium” that is English.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-14-313110-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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