cover image Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English

John McWhorter. Gotham Books, $22.5 (230pp) ISBN 978-1-59240-395-0

This evolutionary history of the English language from author and editor McWhorter (The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language) isn't an easy read, but those fascinated by words and grammar will find it informative, provocative and even invigorating. McWhorter's history takes on some old mysteries and widely-believed theories, mounting a solid argument for the Celtic influence on English language that literary research has for years dismissed; he also patiently explains such drastic changes as the shift from Old English to Middle English (the differences between written and spoken language explain a lot). Those who have learned English as a second language will recognize McWhorter's assertion that ""English really is easy(-ish) at first and hard later""; for that, he says, we can ""blame... the Danish and Scandinavian"" influence. McWhorter further proves his bona fides with deft analogies, like a comparison between the evolution of English and popping a wheelie on a bicycle; he also debunks, handily, the popular notion that ""a language's grammar and the way its words pattern reflect aspects of its speakers' culture and the way they think."" McWhorter's iconoclastic impulses and refreshing enthusiasm makes this worth a look for anyone with a love for the language.