on January 1st 1970
A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar
Why do we say "I am reading a catalog" instead of "I read a catalog"? Why do we say "do" at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Language distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.
Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century ad, John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor. Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English--and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for (and no, it's not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).
I love audio books. In the author’s notes on the audio version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, he talks about how the first stories we learn are read to us. I listen to audio books when I’m in the car, shopping, and playing Candy Crush Soda Saga or Trivia Crack.
In typical book blogger fashion, I already have a tbr shelf just for audio books. Reviewing them is a bit more difficult, because I don’t take notes and I don’t always know how to spell the characters names. So these reviews will be a little different from my book reviews.
You know how in the Scripps National Spelling Bee the kids ask for the origin of the word in order to better help them spell it? Because there are language rules. But every once in awhile there’s a word that completely ignores all the laws of grammar so the kid spells the word wrong and then there are tears and, I’m assuming, years of self-recrimination?
Well, the English language is a lot like that.
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue was fascinating, and I am not a person who usually reads to learn. Discovering the crazy history of how our language evolved was so interesting. And how we have all these rules and definitions and how so many people are grammar purists and how set in store we think things are. Like the English language has been finally and fully baked in our Easy Bake Oven and we are done. Stick a fork in it.
Only it’s not. No language- other than maybe dead languages that we’ve long forgotten, are ever set in stone. Language is fluid, constantly adding and subtracting, influenced by other languages and trends. So, honestly, don’t get too attached. The rules change- dangling participles abound, the oxford comma is on life support, and definitions of words change because people misuse them so much that it literally changes the definition. Like, literally. 😉
The style of the book reminded me a lot of Mary Roach’s non-fiction books- very tongue in cheek but also factual and interesting. Which is pretty much the only way I’m going to get through a non-fiction book. Yes, you can teach me, but you better pop that pill in a piece of cheese my friend, and trick my brain into taking it.
The audiobook is read by John McWhorter. He had the perfect voice and tone for this book, and since he’s also the author, he actually knows what he’d talking about. 🙂
*Part of my A Book A Day challenge