Today is Word Nerd Day, which I thought particularly apt, as book lovers, we love the written word. Two books that we have read, by the same author, came to both of our minds immediately. Reviews follow, with a extra special something from Daisy’s mother!
Bill Bryson, author of the national bestseller The Mother Tongue, takes an informed and affectionate look at the history of the U.S. from the perspective of language and popular culture..
5 ***** stars!
“Made in America” is the story of how the English language has transformed in this country with America putting its own unique stamp on it. It is a truly fascinating examination of words and phrases that have become part of everyday life here in the USA, and how that transformation came about. But, it appears we Americans are an odd lot, at times being linguistic revolutionaries, and at others “preserve words that have fallen out of usage in the mother tongue with the diligence of archivists. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of English terms that have perished from neglect in their homeland live on in America thanks to our essentially conservative nature.” A few are: “fall for autumn, cabin (in the sense of a humble dwelling). bug for any kind of insect, hog for pig, deck as in a pack of cards and jack for the knave within the deck, raise for rear, junk for rubbish, mad in the sense of angry rather than unhinged, bushel as a common unit of measure, closet for cupboard” and the list goes on to many, many more. The early colonists also brought with them many words, thankfully I might add, that have fallen out of usage everywhere… such as “fribble for a frivolous person, bantling for infant, spong for a parcel of land, sooterkin for sweetheart, and slobberchops for a messy eater” among others. I would recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy learning the history of the words Americans say, and its journey through the couple of centuries from the colonists to the modern era. Wonderful stuff!
With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson—the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent—brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can’t), to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world’s largest growth industries.
5 ***** stars!
This is a nonfiction history of the English language, laid out in an interesting and entertaining format that educates as it amuses. In this book, Bill Bryson discusses how English has evolved over many centuries, and how diverse, nuanced, popular, and confounding the language can be.
The language is used around the world, on packaging, on clothing, in music, on stop signs in places where the word “stop” is not in their vocabulary, and even in graffiti on walls in places where Brits and Americans are not common. And yet even in places where English is a person’s native tongue, people speak the words in such different ways that there can be strong communication barriers. For instance, take somebody from the Deep South and let him speak to somebody with a rich, hard-to-understand English dialect. They may need an interpreter to communicate! But both are people who have spoken English their entire lives. Even within the states, you will find that sometimes it is nearly impossible to make yourself understood. I would like to quote one of my favorite passages from the book to elaborate on this:
“Whether you call a long cylindrical sandwich a hero, a submarine, a hoagy, a torpedo, a garibaldi, a poor boy, or any of at least half a dozen other names tells us something about where you come from.” This particularly resonates with me, as I know somebody who tried to order a hoagy in another state and they had no clue what he meant. He described it, and they said, “Oh, you mean an Italian Stallion!”
I LOVED this book. It was such an education to me, personally, and I would highly recommend it to, well, anybody who speaks English. I would definitely give this book five stars, and I have no criticism for it.
And from Daisy’s mother:
The following was written by Daisy’s wonderful mother, a massive word nerd (in the best way possible) who collects vintage dictionaries and word-related books. She generously offered to contribute to our Word Nerd Day post. Thanks, Mom!
Inspiring Recitations for the Home and School, edited by E.L. Loehr and printed in 1909 is a Word Nerd’s delight. With over four hundred and fifty poems for children of all ages, including those for holidays, seasons, flowers, animals and an array of other mnemonic educational aids, the following poem is especially fabulously word nerdy.
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of mouse should never be meese,
You may find a lone mouse, or a whole nest of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine
But a cow if repeated is never called kine,
And the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And if I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular’s this, and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss be nicknamed keese?
Then one may be that and three would be those,
Yet hat in plural would never be hose.
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren,
Then masculine pronouns are he, his, and him;
But imagine the feminine – she, shis, and shim!
So the English, I think, you all will agree,
Is the most wonderful language you ever did see.