The Language Wars: A History of Proper English

The Language Wars A History of Proper English The English language is a battlefield Since the age of Shakespeare arguments over correct usage have been bitter and have always really been about contesting values morality politics and class The

  • Title: The Language Wars: A History of Proper English
  • Author: Henry Hitchings
  • ISBN: 9780374183295
  • Page: 266
  • Format: Hardcover
  • The English language is a battlefield Since the age of Shakespeare, arguments over correct usage have been bitter, and have always really been about contesting values morality, politics, and class The Language Wars examines the present state of the conflict, its history, and its future Above all, it uses the past as a way of illuminating the present Moving chronoloThe English language is a battlefield Since the age of Shakespeare, arguments over correct usage have been bitter, and have always really been about contesting values morality, politics, and class The Language Wars examines the present state of the conflict, its history, and its future Above all, it uses the past as a way of illuminating the present Moving chronologically, the book explores the most persis tent issues to do with English and unpacks the history of proper us age Where did these ideas spring from Who has been on the front lines in the language wars The Language Wars examines grammar rules, regional accents, swearing, spelling, dictionaries, political correctness, and the role of electronic media in reshaping language It also takes a look at such de tails as the split infinitive, elocution, and text messaging Peopled with intriguing characters such as Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Lenny Bruce, The Language Wars is an essential volume for anyone interested in the state of the English language today or its future.

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    1 thought on “The Language Wars: A History of Proper English”

    1. An interesting and accessible exploration of the English language and aspects of usage that people get worked up about. Hitchings approaches the subject from a broad-minded, descriptivist angle (as opposed to traditionalist/prescriptivist) and uses a variety of historical and amusing points to challenge various myths. Too many grammars ignore context in their desire to give rules that always apply.Debunking Zombie "Rules"In particular, he wants to debunk restrictive and inaccurate "rules" and em [...]

    2. Ah the joys of disparaging those who disagree with us about English usage. They seem never to get old. The author of this "History of Proper English," Henry Hitchings, while he tells us repeatedly that he does not take a stand, he's just explaining to us what has happened over the years, is actually quite opinionated. In his opinion there are no valid standards, all standards are artificial (he speaks repeatedly of "bogus" rules), and no one has a right to impose his "standards" on the rest of u [...]

    3. I love books about language (check out my bookshelves). Imaginary languages? Weirdly specific glossaries? Talking bonobos? Delightful foreign idioms? The latest neurolinguistic breakthrough? Dubious folk etymologies? Yet another book about controversies in English usage? Add it to the bedside pile.So you'd think I would have enjoyed this perfectly decent book by Henry Hitchings, who appears to be a perfectly decent fellow. He has already written two perfectly decent books about the English langu [...]

    4. Really enjoyed both the fine writing and the challenges that come with thinking about the grammar of our own languageoften about points that I had not really thought about since "grammar" school. And, I admit honestly, that much of what I use in daily speech/writing is completely inbred and I could not explain why I use various parts of speech. A bit wonky and a good read, if you are interested in the English language and how we got to the current usage. Much surprised at how many of the rules a [...]

    5. In theory, this is a subject I’m really fascinated by. The whole idea of ‘proper English’, all the classism and imperialism and prejudice caught up in it, and the way people’s attitudes to language have developed. However, turns out that either the minutiae of who wrote which grammar/dictionary/book about etiquette and when isn’t that interesting, or Henry Hitchings has a really boring prose style. Or, well, both of those things. I felt like there were a lot of facts, but not much anal [...]

    6. This is a history from Chaucer to the present of attempts to define the English language, describing the perennial conflicts between descriptive, prescriptive and proscriptive approaches. Handled thematically, the text is enlivened by amusing anecdotes.

    7. Intense, philosophic history of battles over what constitutes proper english: grammar, spelling, dialect, and the implicit (and sometimes explicit) racism, sexism, and power struggles embedded in language. It's packed with amazing little lines: a language is a dialect with an army, most arguments about correct language are actually arguments about power, stuff like that. It's full of historical oddities: when the US was forming, not much more than half the people in the area spoke English; in Fr [...]

    8. Anyone who knows me knows I love to read about language, English or otherwise, so I really enjoyed this book. The thing I liked most about it is the fact that it puts the grammar Nazis where they belong--in the dusty static they are trying to create. I love that the book is about the fact that even at its very beginnings people were complaining about usage and the creep of foreign wordsd it hasn't changed. Language is a living thing and while it is important to understand "proper" usage, some pe [...]

    9. A wonderful overview of the debates that have shaped our language.Hitchings matches an Oxford scholar's erudition with a journalist's facility with words. He explains in depth the significant historical discussions about how our language is and should be; he reveals the social and political implications of proscribing and unifying language, and equally the problem of trying to maintain our differences in language usage.

    10. This book done make an interesting topic un-interesting. I have 3 favorite things about this book. One: The realization that the English language is not very old in relative terms. Two: In the age of Chaucer we would read "We do say its time to go now" roughly like "Way doe sah its teem to gaw noo". Three: Grammar snobbery!I look forward to reading jazzier versions on the subject.

    11. Perhaps since the dawn of language there have been debates about what constitutes proper or appropriate language, arguments about how language changes. English, with its apparent loose structure, is perhaps subject to more such debates than other languages.Hitchings’ book attempts to cover the broad span of this subject and is only partially successful. Chapters are scattergun in their approaches, often divert into different topics, and struggle to hold the interest. Hitchings’ writing may b [...]

    12. не могу поверить, что я дочитала это! (очень занудная книга на любителя, но любителям, собственно, понравится)

    13. The sub-title of this book is “A History of Proper English” — but anyone who reads it to find out what “proper English” is all about will be sadly disappointed. The author more or less presents his work chronologically in 28 chapters (although he feels free to move temporally backwards and forwards as required within the basic chronological flow) and covers many varied and often delicious titbits along the way, but the message is always the same: there is no such thing as “proper Eng [...]

    14. From World Wide Words (worldwidewords/): Book Review: The Language Wars-------------------------------------------------------------------Henry Hitchings's previous works include a biography of the man he wrote his PhD thesis on, Dr Samuel Johnson. Here he turns to the history of disputes about what constitutes good English. To call it warfare is to seriously overstate matters - nobody has ever manned a barricade in defence of the right to split an infinitive - but publishers do like catchpenny [...]

    15. In Language Wars, Hitchings provides many great insights about the development of standardized English, and his witty remarks and playful language make the book very enjoyable to read. This is the first book I've read about linguistics that I considered laugh-out-loud funny.Hitchings covers a lot of territory over only 336 pages, and the flow of his narrative is logical and easy to follow. Sometimes, I felt as though he was reading my mind when the chapters began discussing things I was wonderin [...]

    16. I was really looking forward to reading this book and I was excited when I received it as a Christmas present. But unfortunately I just couldn't make myself actually like it. Finishing it turned into a month-long slog.I think my problem with the book was partly one of expectations. "A History of Proper English", to my mind, should have chapters dealing with the placement of the comma, the use of the hyphen, etc. It would be mostly a historical work with a little bit of textbook thrown in.To be f [...]

    17. This was a hard one to rate. It was well-written, definitely. It's probably 3.5 stars. I enjoyed it overall. Some parts were qutie good, some parts were dull and didn't really hold my interest. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, somehow, but I'm glad I read it. I tend to be interested in discussions of language, but I think I tend to like the details about individual words and trends more than the various philosophical theories about it. Certain things will stick with me.For example, the co [...]

    18. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Although some of the reviews I read mentioned that the middle chapters were tedious, I didn't find that to be the case at all. Hitchings may go off argument but he never goes off topic, and The Language Wars isn't just a history of the fight for "proper English". It's also a personal essay in which Hitchings shares his opinions about our bastard tongue and comes down on the side of the language liberals rather than the conservatives. That amounts [...]

    19. About to embark, in September, on a Translation degree, I thought it a good idea to brush up on my rather lamentable English skills and thoroughly cast myself into the depths of this book. It is a worthy and interesting read in which the history of our language is explored. What gave rise to the way we speak in today's world and what, indeed, will tomorrow's English be? The author introduces a multitude of well-spun anecdotes from the most famous of our English language writers in addition to ta [...]

    20. Somewhat mistitled, this book contains very little war or conflict at all. While the war in the book's name refers the very civil disagreement between grammatical prescriptivists (truthfully proscriptivists) who lament disintegrating standards in 'correct' English usage and the more liberal descriptivists who study language from a more objective standpoint, measuring standard and nonstandard forms without passing judgment. Yet the book itself is more of a history of prescriptivist sticklers thro [...]

    21. I like English. I read style guides. I took a class in college called History of the English Language. I run a training session on Effective Business Writing. I vomit every time I see someone use quotation marks to convey emphasis. I once punched a 5th grader in the neck for using "their" instead of "they're".This book was too much English for me.It was full of interesting facts about the history of the language, and more so the history of people complaining about the way other people use the la [...]

    22. _The Language Wars_ is a wide-ranging discussion of perceptions of English usage. Hitchings strenuously attempts to mediate between the prescriptivist and descriptivist camps, implying that those who take strong positions are usually proven wrong by history. I especially appreciate his explanations of how usage "rules" were developed and defended by the high priests of grammar. What we think of as iron-clad grammar rules can often prove a barrier to clarity and understanding;"correct" pronoun an [...]

    23. This is an excellent book. It's not a fast or easy read simply because there's so much here to digestd it's all good. The breadth and scope of Hitchings's research is breathtaking and informs a comprehensive evaluation of the struggles throughout its history that the English language has undergone as innumerable people attempt to codify and standardize its use. There can be few if any corners of this ongoing fight that he doesn't cover, not only with erudition and rich diction but occasional fla [...]

    24. Excellent. It's a history of the often bitter debates about 'proper' English, starting from the point at which the language as we now know it came into existence - perhaps more recently that we might imagine - and reflecting on its use in England, the US, and indeed many other countries and regions where the language is spoken. It's written with humour and verve, including many rather amusing examples and a number of details that even those who think they know the language well will find fresh a [...]

    25. A well-researched and in-depth look at the evolution (historic and current) of the English language, admirably pragmatic about the not-really-rules of grammar and how fluid and malleable the language is.I did find that a couple of chapters, where Hitchings went into depth on the development of spelling in history, were a bit turgid - over-long and every time he emerged into the present day he would almost immediately plunge back several hundred years into the past.Once past that section, the boo [...]

    26. This is a good book. I like to end my sentences with a preposition, so I now feel empowered to know that this was just one guy's idea of proper English. My one minor, but important complaint about the book is the size of the font. I mean, do I actually have to put on reading glasses to get through the book? A small detail, but one that irked me throughout the book. Were they trying to save paper by using a tiny type? Anyway, interesting stuff. From now on I'm paying no attention to rules on gram [...]

    27. This might not be as slick as 'The story of English'. It does however build well constructed arguments with evidence to make even the most ardent Anglophile question their assumptions as to what makes 'good' Englsh. Never again shall i question the use of the hanging preposition, nor adhere to the southern 'im' prefix as being 'better' than the goodd old northern 'un'. (Let us resurrect 'unpossible' in the lexicon of pur langusge once more) A joy to read, and definately makes the reader think ab [...]

    28. This is what I might call a popular-scholarly book (if that is not improper English!) In other words, it is written for the general reader, but relates a great deal of information from specialists in the subject (as shown by the 27 pages of notes and 26 page Bibliography). It is not a "light" read, but is not "heavy" either - it just requires some concentration and effort to follow all that is being said. It is packed full of history, theory, observation, reflection and insight, and made me reco [...]

    29. If you're a grammar geek, language nerd, or other similarly-describable entity, you will love this book. Hilariously written in a way that only the British can truly pull off. I hesitate to reveal the depth of my nerdness, but this book literally had me laughing out loud in bed. Beyond that, though, it's definitely a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of the English language. It really gives you a whole new perspective on "rules" of grammar, and has made me a lot less apt to c [...]

    30. For someone who claims to be a descriptivist, he's awfully opinionated.This is mostly a very interesting book, though slow in spots and some of his tangents reveal more about his own biases than anything else. But this book definitely has it's charms. It has lots of fascinating anecdotes, and is well-written, with a fair amount of snark. I was expecting more linguistics, but that didn't come in until the end. It's primarily a social history of English. This book wasn't what I expected it to be, [...]

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