Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
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Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  7,851 ratings  ·  464 reviews
In Made in America, Bryson de-mythologizes his native land, explaining how a dusty hamlet with neither woods nor holly became Hollywood, how the Wild West wasn't won, why Americans say 'lootenant' and 'Toosday', how Americans were eating junk food long before the word itself was cooked up, as well as exposing the true origins of the G-string, the original $64,000 question,...more
Paperback, 415 pages
Published October 23rd 2001 by Avon Books (first published 1994)
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Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
403rd out of 2,819 books — 4,769 voters
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Petra X
I'm up to Benjamin Franklin and frankly Ben, I've had enough of you and this book. I usually like Bryson's writing style, but the fruity self-congratulatory tone of this is irritating. Also, I think if you are an American you might be a great deal more interested in the entire of history of America as experienced by European settlers than I am. No 'might' about it, of course you are, its your country. Me, sorry, but I couldn't care less.

Does that sound almost sacrilegious to you? Ask yourself th...more
RandomAnthony
Bryson’s Made In America is a usually fascinating but sometimes overwhelming conversation about the manner in which language has evolved in the United States over the last couple hundred years. If you imagine a guy at the end of the bar who knows way too much about a particular subject and, while he shares quite a few compelling and memorable facts with you over the course of an evening, eventually you forget them all because there are so goddamn many that you just want the guy to be quiet for a...more
Paul
Bill Bryson is like the Abba of books. Everyone, your granny and your kid's teacher and your babysitter, and your mum's friends, everybody has a couple they really like and they probably have Bill Bryson's Greatest Hits on the cd shelf too. Safest present to give to someone you know very little about : a Bill Bryson book. Oh, everyone loves him Didn't he do Dancing Queen? We danced to Notes from a Small Island at our wedding. Oh did you - A Short History of Nearly Everything was "our song". I'm...more
Katie
I will admit that I didn't actually finish this book, but by 3/4 of the way through, I was totally bored with it. The first few chapters of this book were actually interesting in that they discusses the way that the first settlers in American spoke, how that gradually began to differ from the way people spoke in English and how different it is from modern American speech. However, after these sections, the book simply introduced a historical period or a new technology and basically listed the wo...more
John Rachel
I am such a nerd! Why else would I find a book about "words" more exciting than "The Bourne Identity" or "Hunt For Red October". Then again, in my defense and to give enormous credit where it is due ... 1) I am a writer and words are everything to my trade, and 2) Bill Bryson brings such a fascinating and encyclopedic knowledge not just of etymology but a sensitivity to the historical and cultural environment within which language develops and evolves. His anecdotes are both engaging and informa...more
David
Nov 25, 2009 David rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: david-giltinan@sbcglobal.net
Shelves: read-in-2009
WARNING: THIS REVIEW STOOPS TO LOW GIMMICKRY!

Specifically, the reader is invited to imagine a conversation between two reviewers, both of whom live inside my head. As will become evident, one is infinitely more crotchety than the other, possibly to the extent of bloody-mindedness. To keep guesswork to a minimum, I will alternate between regular and italic fonts.

This exploration of American English by Bill Bryson contains a wealth of entertaining anecdotal material that is unfortunately often bu...more
Lars Guthrie
What bothered me in "The Mother Tongue" was more irritating in this companion piece: the laundry lists of words categorized in catch-all bins. Exhausting for this reader. Also, this time, Bryson's blithe and breezy commentary seemed less witty and more shallow. He appears determined to shoot down myths of American cultural history, but looking at the footnotes, the research is weak. One example: Bryson dismisses Zane Grey as "a New York dentist who knew almost nothing of the West but refused to...more
Michael
Jul 17, 2010 Michael rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Michael by: Kim
Shelves: non-fiction, 1990s
Although I don’t live in America, it is obvious that they have had a big influence on the English language. Bill Bryson’s ‘Made In America’ explores the history of America and the effects it had on the language. I found the most interesting parts to do with censorship in America, from titbit becoming tidbit, cockroach becoming roach and to the extreme case of political correction which wanted to stop the use of terms like blackeye and blacksmith (but interestingly enough, not blackout). I feel I...more
Hope McCain
Here's what I liked about this book: It's an informal history of the English language in the U.S., so my first thought when I cracked it open was, How could Bryson possibly talk about words for over 300 pages?. I was pleasantly surprised at how in-depth Bryson gets into the history that surrounds the evolution of our language. A book this long about nothing but word origins might have been a cure for insomnia, but Bryson was so good at using history and stories as context for how certain terms a...more
Sarah
As much as I love Bill Bryson's writing, I found it reeeeeeeeeally difficult to get through "Made in America." I learned a lot of interesting facts and the book did clear up some misconceptions I had, but it didn't make up for the fact that some of the sections in this book were incredibly boring. I know that the book was primarily supposed to be about the origins of everyday words and phrases, but sometimes it felt like Bryson went a bit overboard. It felt like I was reading a dictionary, and h...more
Guy
Much, MUCH, MUCH more than a history of the English language in America! Bryson with magical and funny writing links the evolution of language with the evolution of culture, science, recreation, food, politics. His controversial or almost heretical debunkings of accepted history are supported with an extensive bibliography of the sources.

The debunking is endless! Barely a page was turned that didn't leave me amazed at how much I don't know, and just how far away from documented history is the a...more
John
In "Made in America", Bill Bryson romps through American culture as he uncovers the history of the English language pertaining to specific eras and segments of society. As one might expect, the formation of language peculiarities is an excuse for Bryson to tour the unusual in American history. There's great information in every chapter - per-marital sex was common and expected in Puritan America - along with litanies of slang. "'Noah's Boy' was a slice of ham . . .and that 'burn one' or 'grease...more
Chris Northington
I'll preface by saying that I've been a Bryson fan for quite some time now. Rarely have I come across a book of his (travelogue or otherwise) that hasn't held my interest. For those who've only read selections such as "The Lost Continent" or "A Walk in the Woods" (which features a highly entertaining encounter with a security guard at Palmerton's own Zinc Company, the central landmark of my beloved hometown), "Made in America" is a solely different journey. This is a book for anyone who's wonder...more
Jill
This book is advertised as a history of the English language in the United States. But readers who primarily want to know about the trends of English in America, about its broader causes and effects, will only feel satisfied with this book about 50% of the time.

When Bryson uses vocabulary examples to support larger narratives or points, he's brilliant. When was American English adapted from British English (losing 'doth' and 'liveth'), how was it altered by different eras of immigration, and wh...more
Ryan
This book is kind of like A Short History of Nearly Everything About American History, structured around etymology. In other words, it's awesome. One of the more enjoyable Bill Bryson books I've read, mostly because I don't have to read about him whining while traveling. I'll always hang onto my copy of it to reference.

Here's just a few of the myriad of things I learned from this book:

- The term "ham actor" was coined because lesser actors used to use ham fat to remove their make-up, rather tha...more
Susan
In the past, I've commented on Bryson's somewhat affected reading style, but, admittedly, his style perfectly captures his nuanced comments and cynicism. He does NOT read this book, and I immediately missed him! I believe this is the same narrator who led me through three volumes on the Civil War. His enthusiasm just doesn't get Bill.

That aside, this book has so much fun trivia that I have decided to buy a hard copy. It is all about American language and how our verbiage originated. It is set u...more
Jimyanni
This book is a wonderfully entertaining look at the development of the American version of the English language. I generally find Bryson's style enjoyable, although there have been exceptions (notably, "Lost Continent") and this one is almost as good as "A Short History of Nearly Everything". It does beg for an update, given that it was witten in 1994, and not only have there been many words added to the lexicon since then, but some of his comments on the health of the American economy might nee...more
Jakob
Bill Bryson´s book "Made in America" is a mix of Us history and a concluding why Americans are Americans. It is a very thick book and I personally had a hard time reading it. Some chapter are very interesting and funny. But most of the time it gets very long and boring, when Bryson keeps explaining, including personal stories, trying to make one point. But when he finally gets there you are confused. It is not easy to read because there are very long complicated sentences. But over all the "Made...more
David Roberts
The book I read to research this post was Made In America by Bill Bryson which is an excellent book which I bought from a car boot sale. This book is an affectionate and quite witty look at the development of the English language and American culture & the history of the United States. Many people regard Eric the Red the viking of first discovering America and he did discover Greenland and Iceland with the former having a colony of 4,000 vikings for many years. One problem was in both places...more
Tracy
I listened to the Audible version read by William Roberts. This is a book on the history of the English language in the United States, but there is a lot of historical information thrown in, too. I was puzzled by the choice of this particular narrator--this is a book about language and sometimes specifically about pronunciation, but Roberts had an odd accent I couldn't identify (he sounded a bit like a pompous professor), and he mispronounced more than one word. "Poo-berty" for puberty, saying t...more
J
Fascinating book about the English language. In depth research which explains the origin of many words and idioms that we use in American English. You'd think a book like this would be a little dry but the writing style keeps your interest and even makes you LOL on occasion. One of the best things about this book is it includes a lot of history along with the language. I actually learned quite a bit of history thanks to this book. It also cleared up a few historical misconceptions that I had.
David
Like The Mother Tongue, Made in America is a book about the English language -- but while the former is about English in general, the latter is specifically about English in the US. Like The Mother Tongue, I like this book for its mix of interesting facts, historical anecdotes, and detours to comment on the improbability of the way the world is. It didn't quite tickly me as much as The Mother Tongue, but this is still a fun book.
Ladiibbug
Book's Complete Title (a non-fiction book):

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the U.S.

Bill Bryson is always a reliable author as far as non-fiction story telling. Made in America isn't as funny as some of his travel adventure tales, but I enjoyed the history lessons worked into the threads of his story about word origins, etc.

dipayan
this is the book that can be called the gateway to america. if you want to understand and interpret american culture without getting into academic details and want to have a treasure trove of american trivia, this is the book you cant miss. its entertaining and informative for both americans and non-americans...
Nancy
I love this man's ability to observe human behavior and cultural differences and tell it all in a way that is funny, endearing and gives us a feeling of connectedness no matter where we live.
Rob Charpentier
This is a follow-up to Bryson’s Mother Tongue, which was his history on the origins and development of the English language. In this book, he focuses on the changes that the United States had on the language throughout its history. Of course, both countries speak the same language but with some rather distinct differences in the spelling and pronunciation, not to mention turns of phrase, all of which are easily well worth the attention of a book.

However, this particular subject must have been ra...more
Deb
If you like history and learning the origins of certain words, this is an interesting book. It may be a bit dry for some folks but I enjoyed it very much. I like Bill Bryson's writings anyway and have read a few of his travelogues. His dry humor (or is it humour?) strikes my funny bone. This book takes the reader on a word history trip from the moment the Mayflower passengers hit the shores to modern day speak. I found the book educational and fun.

Note: This was a book that I received as a bookr...more
~*kath*~
Always a good chewy read, is Bryson. Chock full of history and plenty of laughs. Beautiful word play as usual.
Chris Boulton
I've seen in a few previous reviews that some people have found this book a tad on the boring side. I, on the other hand, actually really enjoyed it. It takes a bit of time to get going.. especially during those bits where 'ar Bill is paying particular attention to the slight variations in how one letter is pronounced in a particular word between us and our dearly loved cousins from across the pond.

Other than that, Bryson's brand of wit, charm and the way he sees the world is once again what I l...more
Rachael Eyre
I like Bill Bryson, but even his keenest fan has to admit that occasionally he goes overboard. The style that ticks along pleasantly enough in magazine pieces and his travel guides is on the unwieldy side here. It's clear that he discovered so many interesting facts while researching this, he had to include them all, without considering the demands this would make on his readers. It doesn't help that the material has since been recycled in other books- he has a strange fascination with Harry Sel...more
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Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

In The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson's hilarious first t...more
More about Bill Bryson...
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“By the 1920s if you wanted to work behind a lunch counter you needed to know that 'Noah's boy' was a slice of ham (since Ham was one of Noah’s sons) and that 'burn one' or 'grease spot' designated a hamburger. 'He'll take a chance' or 'clean the kitchen' meant an order of hash, 'Adam and Eve on a raft' was two poached eggs on toast, 'cats' eyes' was tapioca pudding, 'bird seed' was cereal, 'whistleberries' were baked beans, and 'dough well done with cow to cover' was the somewhat labored way of calling for an order of toast and butter. Food that had been waiting too long was said to be 'growing a beard'. Many of these shorthand terms have since entered the mainstream, notably BLT for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, 'over easy' and 'sunny side up' in respect of eggs, and 'hold' as in 'hold the mayo'.” 4 likes
“Because of social strictures against even the mildest swearing, America developed a particularly rich crop of euphemistic expletives - darn, durn, goldurn, goshdad, goshdang, goshawful, blast, consarn, confound, by Jove, by jingo, great guns, by the great horn spoon (a nonce term first cited in the Biglow Papers), jo-fired, jumping Jehoshaphat, and others almost without number - but even this cautious epithets could land people in trouble as late as the 1940s.” 3 likes
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