cover image The Story of English in 100 Words

The Story of English in 100 Words

David Crystal. St. Martin’s, $22.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-250-00346-1

From pre-eminent British linguist Crystal (The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language) comes this delightful history of the words we use (and some we’ve forgotten) and how we came to use them. Neither a wordbook nor a linguistic history, Crystal emphasizes that his selections demonstrate how English—“a vacuum cleaner of a language”— developed by sweeping up words from other languages These “loanwords” range from “street” (from the Latin strata) to “dame” (with a complex history as an indicator of social status) from the French. Moving chronologically from “roe” (fifth century) to “Twittersphere (21st century), Crystal spells out each word’s origin; the word’s sometimes-roundabout journey to the present-day meaning is explored, and often grammatical conundrums are answered. Case in point: why is there a “b” in “debt,” as its origin was the French word dete (or dette)? Blame scholars who wanted sophistication and drew from the Latin debitum. Crystal also touches on the coining of new words when the mood strikes, citing famous examples in Shakespeare and Joyce as well as the crop of technology-inspired neologisms. Crystal’s enthusiasm for—and wealth of knowledge about—the ever-evolving English language makes this a must-read for word lovers. (Apr.)