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

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  10,393 Ratings  ·  623 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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Paul Bryant
Nov 28, 2014 Paul Bryant rated it liked it
Shelves: english-language
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 book". I'm ...more
Petra Eggs
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
Apr 05, 2009 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
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
John Rachel
Sep 04, 2013 John Rachel rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 06, 2009 Katie rated it did not like it
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
Nov 25, 2009 David rated it liked it
Recommended to David by:
Shelves: read-in-2009

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
Lars Guthrie
Dec 19, 2008 Lars Guthrie rated it it was ok
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
Dec 14, 2015 Michael rated it liked it
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
Jan 06, 2016 Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-re-read
Funny, interesting and informative. One fact that sticks with me is that every town in America had its own time until the railroad decided clock time needed to be standardized. What that has to do with American English I don't remember, but that's how Bryson's writing is--there are lots of fascinating side stories.
Niranjan M
Jul 17, 2016 Niranjan M rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that takes you quite a while to read, but not because its slow. The information contained in the 400-odd pages is simply too much to digest in one go. Bryson takes us from the 1500s till the early 1990s, taking us through each and every American thing there is in between. Funny thing is, this is meant to be a book on the evolution of American English, but it is also one about history. I learnt more about American history, or rather, what made America what it is today, ...more
Jul 19, 2016 Annk rated it it was ok
I love Bill Bryson. His narratives are rich with cultural tidbits and historical wonders. Unfortunately, this book crawled. I felt like I was on a car ride with my favorite uncle who told a bunch of amusing anecdotes that were amusing when we were just on the way to the beach, but became insufferable on a long, cross-country drive.

Good in small doses. The tidbits are great. But boy, it was hard to stick with this one.
Nov 26, 2010 Guy rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 07, 2016 Edward rated it it was amazing
Considering how crucial it is to our every day lives, we know precious little about language. Where certain words come from, why they are used in specific ways, etc. Take "OK" for instance--the most famous English phrase in the world, and perhaps American English's most lasting and pervasive contribution to English usage ever--and no one knows exactly where it came from. There are ideas, of course, ranging from a 19th century campaign slogan to a possible West African origin via slavery. But ast ...more
Jun 26, 2010 Ryan rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2016 Rusty rated it liked it
This is the second book about the history of English by Bill Bryson I’ve read. This one, however, is laser focused on how English evolved once people started speaking it over here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.

Turns out, just like all his other books, it’s a whirlwind of historical trivia. I personally didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous book about English because the language itself wasn’t formed here, so this is more of a history of the unique vocabulary and idioms used here in the stat
Jan 18, 2015 Jill rated it it was ok
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
Aug 21, 2011 Holly rated it really liked it
This book, as it took me about half of it to finally grasp the concept, is a history of pretty much how the US came to be, from the pilgrims and the Mayflower and then right down to the space age.

For me the book for pretty slow starting. The chapters about the founding fathers of America was pretty tough because a lot of the writing relied upon prior knowledge of the subject, of which I have very little, but past that, this book is typical Bryson.

Funny whilst unbelievably informing this book is
Tanmay Tikekar
Aug 25, 2015 Tanmay Tikekar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

As is the case with all Brysons, this is a delightfully light read, despite having a seemingly boring topic and more than 400 pages. If you're a language or history nerd, though, it's a veritable feast.

In many ways, parallels can be drawn between "Made in America" and 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'. Like in Short History, Bryson has kept the pacing engaging by not dawdling on needless intricacies of the subject. Virtually never is there "too much"
Jul 09, 2013 John rated it really liked it
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
Dec 17, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bill Bryson is a humorous author who typically write gently comic travel books, that draw heavily on his bewilderment at modern life, and its' incongruities. On occasion he changes directions, writing books about history, and Shakespeare, for example, while maintaining his humorous approach to the subject matter.

This books is one of this direction changes. Here, he looks at the history of English in his native America. He addresses a variety of issues, and looks at a variety of times. So he talk
Oct 23, 2015 Martin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
This book took me forever to read, as it was super-dense with delicious information that forced me to pause and memorize. So many wonderful words, separated by so many commas! Yum! The author does something in a clever way, much like a movie called Vantage Point that nobody remembers: he picks a point of view, discusses it from its start point to its end point in history, then rewinds to begin the discussion again with a different point of view. This method of review is excellent, as were the he ...more
Jan 20, 2012 Jimyanni rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor
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
Apr 18, 2010 Jakob rated it did not like it
Bill Brysons 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
Jan 20, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it
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
Aug 02, 2009 Meghan marked it as half-read
This is the kind of nonfiction book I love best. It's like Salt and Know-It-All. It mixes history with facts. And best of all, it has Bryson's humor scattered through. If you're looking to learn about how American's got their version of English, this is the book for you! I'm finding it quite interesting to learn that it's actually the British version that did the "evolving" and our pronunciations are actually more like old English. I also found it funny that to get a good picture of what an 18th ...more
Nov 15, 2008 J rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 21, 2007 David rated it liked it
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.
Apr 30, 2007 dipayan rated it really liked it
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...
Jun 29, 2016 Jen rated it really liked it
A very interesting read! If you want to know more about how many common words and phrases made their way into American English, this book is for you. An added bonus is a little history lesson on things such as the beginnings of baseball and football; aviation; our forefathers and the Declaration of Independence; Hollywood and the movie industry; various wars; and much more!
❂ Jennifer
3.5 stars

I didn't give the book a higher rating, because as an audio book, this one isn't the greatest. The narrator does a great job but the text itself doesn't always lend itself to reading out loud: Bryson uses a LOT of word lists and I just couldn't stay tuned in - my mind wandered.

Wordier review:
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS

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 Con
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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'.” 6 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.” 6 likes
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