THE BOOK REPORT: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, The Untold History of English

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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, The Untold History of English
By John McWhorter
(Gotham)

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If you’re inclined towards the latest Grisham, or detest books on grammar, I’d avoid John McWhorter’s 215-page little hardcover. But if you’re looking to learn some history about the language we all speak in ‘dees here parts,’ if you have a hankering for the tricky travails of word traveling and how words impact their speakers (and visa versa) then Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, The Untold History of English is worth your time.

What I especially like about McWhorter’s treatise here is that, as he says in the intro “It’s not, then, all about words that just happened into our vocabulary. It’s also about things speakers of other languages did to English grammar, and actions speak louder than words.” I agree with that sentiment and while there’s plenty of places in this book where I admit to getting a bit lost, it is fun to learn how the Vikings and the Celts impinged on what we say and how we say it, to learn how and why all those peculiarities of our language developed, and the pre history of English, times before Old’ English and how what was done then effects our language now.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, The Untold History of English is a top flight researched book. McWhorter certainly knows of what he writes, conveys these hard-to-grasp concepts with entertaining prose and creates an overall interesting read about a subject that could read as anything but, in less capable hands.

Ralph Greco, Jr.

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