- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Profile Books Ltd; Main edition (5 July 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1846684285
- ISBN-13: 978-1846684289
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,07,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Story of English in 100 Words Paperback – 5 Jul 2012
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Description for The Story of English in 100 Words
Crystal's book is full of distractions and delights
One of [Crystal's] best ... it builds gradually into a kind of linguistic tapestry, packed with abstruse information, wonderfully readable
If the history of language is a sort of labyrinth, David Crystal is an excellent guide
Delicious revelations ... Crystal does an excellent job, not just of tracing the etymology of a word, but of relating it to social history, painting a picture of our times through words
An eye-opening tour of the English language through the agesSee all Description for The Story of English in 100 Words
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Crystal largely succeeds in his attempt, though I think the result still ends up being more of an etymology book than a systemic history of English. Still, it's a fun and highlighy readable narrative, and as a bonus you'll actually learn the stories of far more than 100 words--while each of the 100 chapters uses a single word as its starting point, Crystal introduces many other words and phrases for illustration and comparison.
There are plenty of illuminating moments. Chapter 4, for example, explores the history of the word "loaf", a word that started out as the Anglo-Saxon "hlaf" during the 9th Century. The head of a household was a "hlaf-weard," literally a bread warden; the woman of the house was a "hlaefdige," a bread-kneader (the word "dige" is related to the modern "dough"). Hlaf-weard changed in the 14th century, as people quit pronouncing the "f", leading eventually to "lahrd" and finally to "lord." (Although Crystal doesn't mention it in this book, the Anglo-Saxon "hlaefdige" gradually evolved into "lady".) It's interesting to learn that the words "lord" and "lady" derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word for a loaf of bread, which speaks volumes about the subsistence level of the Medieval English economy--such people were important because they controlled the food supply, not just because they owned bags of gold.
Another, similar book, which I took up after finishing Crystal's work, is The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, which performs a similar service, albeit in a more pointedly witty way.
It's perhaps best described as 100 short "columns" about random aspects of etymology and word formation. Each column takes specific word as a starting point, but usually that word is just a conversation starter. Sadly, many of the conversations don't go very deep. The least interesting ones degenerate in long lists of words that "also" follow a specific pattern. The best ones taught me interesting things I didn't know before, but there just weren't enough of these. Some of the worst ones seemed to just be improvisations, discussing some of the author's opinions on non-language-related subjects or telling almost-funny jokes.
The author is also quite keen on the new words brought to us by the age of the Internet. Sadly, he appears to be a rather casual Internet user and doesn't have much to add. Often when he tries to show off his knowledge of Internet jargon he misses the mark by emphasizing terms already obsolete or getting them slightly wrong. I suspect he's using some secondary sources.
All in all, not a total waste, but hardly the best $11 I've ever spent.