The Story of English in 100 Words
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The Story of English in 100 Words

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  595 ratings  ·  134 reviews
The world's foremost expert on the English language takes us on an entertaining and eye-opening tour of the history of our vernacular through the ages.

In this entertaining history of the world's most ubiquitous language, David Crystal draws on one hundred words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular...more
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by St. Martin's Press (first published October 13th 2011)
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Paul
I thought- hello, let's use the 100 words to review this wee book, sort of like the well-known sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” which uses all the letters in the alphabet. It seemed mega doable, it could be so cute, but it very quickly it became a royal pain in the arse. I dilly-dallied, I couldn’t get going. I stared out my window for inspiration. There were no UFOs - again. I read the blurb on a shiny new paperback and thumbed through the ever-boring Sherwood Gazette. For...more
Dan
Enjoyable little book about the history of the English language and all of its many sources. An incredibly informative work for those who enjoy reading about the origin of words, and all those crazy little stories that have turned our language into what it is today.

As an added bonus, you suddenly have an infinite supply of little factoids to throw out about the history of various parts of English:

(these may count as spoilers?)

- In legal contracts, there are very commonly phrases with two words t...more
Andrew Fish
OK - it was a bit of a system shock after reading The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language to read a similar book with no comedy mileage, but once you get over that, this book is as cleverly planned and incredibly informative.

The author has taken a series of words, each of which represents a development in the English language, such as the introduction of words from a particular source, through ways of manipulating existing words to create other...more
Abdulla Al Muhairi
الكتاب كان مفاجأة رائعة، هو قاموس صغير لمئة كلمة من الإنجليزية وأصول هذه الكلمات وتاريخها، والكتاب يشمل كلمات من الإنجليزية القديمة والوسطى والحديثة حتى أيامنا هذه، بل فيه كلمات متعلقة بالتقنية وتعطي صورة لمؤلف يعرف حقاً آخر تطورات اللغة حتى مع تقدم سنه.

إن كنت تحب اللغة والكلمات فهذا كتاب لك، أعجبني الكتاب لدرجة أنني سأبقيه في مكتبتي بعد أن ظننت أنني سأتخلص منه بعد قرائته مباشرة، النقطة الثانية الكتاب عرفني بمؤلف يستحق أن أقرأ له باقي كتبه.
Kristen
This is exactly the book I needed to read right now. I've been in a bit of a reading slump, so it was great to read a book that sucked me right in. I could not stop sharing all of the fascinating facts I was learning as I was reading. Did you know it wasn't until 1974 that billion meant the same thing to Britain as it did to the rest of the world? Before that, it meant a "million million" in Britain and a "thousand million" everywhere else. It's amazing to me that this is even possible. Or that...more
Bianca
Even if you do not have a thing for linguistics, this book will still be a nice read. All you need to have is a hunger for silly facts, because this book's got plenty - silly, interesting, tale-telling facts. Although this volume is written by David Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor and an expert when it comes to the English language, you don't have to be exceptionally highbrow to make sense of it.
The book does exactly what it says on the tin. Cryst...more
Julie
If you are interested in where words come from and their age this is a great book. For example did you know that the word brass ( meaning money ) existed in the 16th century. I really enjoyed the discussion around where words originated. For example, What, originally was an exclamation used to get someones attention. And posh English folk used it until the early 20th century with 'Whatho'.Anyone who likes the Jeeves series of books will appreciate knowing the origin of this word.

The book gives...more
Tori
This was a perfect book to skim through. Crystal is a linguistics expert and has chosen 100 English words that have shaped our speech and language. His entries are fairly brief, which makes it easy to pick and choose which words are most interesting. I learned that the rule that "and" should never begin a sentence was almost arbitrarily decided on in the 19th century. Lawyers in the middle ages contended with Latin, French and English. Legally, which language should they use? they solved the pro...more
Marie
It's delightful--like going through a really well-curated history museum for English words. There's a short overview of English-language history at the beginning, which can be read or skipped as the reader prefers. Each section thereafter is a word-exhibit showcasing some word type, influence, or development in English. It's roughly chronological in organization but could be browsed in almost any order. Very entertaining for word buffs. Also, any book that has "muggle" as its representative fict...more
Athan Tolis
I just LOVED reading this book.

A few years ago I read Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But I bet that this tiny little tome will have a longer-lasting effect on my appreciation of the English language.

Not only is the author the consummate master of his topic, he's also head over heels in love with it. No exaggeration, you get the feeling he narrowed it down to 100 from his favorite 10,000 words. He weaves in the Celtic, the Anglo-Saxon, the Viking, the Latin and the Norm...more
Donna
I love reading about the history of words and I listened to a college course on the history of English and found that fascinating. This book is a very fun combination of those two things. Crystal uses the history of specific words to illustrate changes that have occurred in the English language. It's a very entertaining read with each word being covered in 2-3 pages. Highly recommended for any word lover.
Deborah
An interesting concept developed in a very readable way. I liked the structure of each essay (the writing teacher in me noticed some patterns), but more than that I liked the voice: interesting tidbits about the English language told by someone who knows a lot and really enjoys the subject. It was clear Crystal was having fun. As a consequence, the reader does, too.
Nikki
A fun format for a book on language. It doesn't tell me that much that I didn't know, but it was fun to flip through anyway, and it gives the truth behind a couple of myths (like the origins of the word "okay"). Some of it's pretty amusing, too.
Dan Smith
A disappointing and lacklustre book. It promises to tell the history of English in 100 words, and obviously I wasn't going to take that literally, but it could have made an effort. The chapters are enticingly in chronological order, and listed in the Contents along with their nature: a borrowed word, a portmanteau word, a scientific word, etc.

But the execution is plodding. For the most part, what we learn is prosaic and surface remarks. e.g. from a chapter about words of Indian derivation we lea...more
Richard
Excellent book. Full of lots of useful and useless pieces of information. Understanding where the term OK comes from is my favourite.
Rea
Very interesting look at our language and how it has evolved, focused around 100 words introduced in chronological order of their appearance in the English language.

Maybe a trivial point, but one of the most interesting things mentioned for me was that since the start of the new millenium, there have been very few loan words adopted into the language. Considering that English is usually very open to just adopting the local term for the thing (karaoke, fjord, kayak, etc.), it came as a surprise t...more
Keli
Crystal attempted to go for breadth and depth with this book, but he missed the mark on both. Some of the entries were very interesting, and he illustrated a few concepts of the linguistics of English. But in many of the entries, I had no idea how they fit into the structure of the language as a whole. I also had a bit of difficulty connecting because it was written from a very British point of view with small nods to the U.S. and Australia. Therefore, I had to take his word for it when he state...more
Nikhil Krishnaswamy
This is exactly what it says on the tin: a history of the English language using 100 different words, from "roe" to "twittersphere," as examples of how English vocabulary has changed throughout its recorded history.

For what it is, a history of vocabulary, it's very good. Crystal details occurrences like borrowing and semantic drift to explain where the 100 chosen words (and some related terms) come from, and there are a number of interesting facts provided along the way. Did you know that "hey,"...more
Kirsti
Jan 22, 2014 Kirsti rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kirsti by: Mental Floss
What I learned:

* English is a vacuum-cleaner language because it sucks up lots of foreign words. Other languages, such as French and Icelandic, don't do this because their speakers try to keep them pure.

* English is a Germanic language, but 80% of its vocabulary is not Germanic.

* To linguists, a triplet is a group of words with the same meaning but derived from different languages. Example: fire (Germanic), flame (French), conflagration (Latin). English speakers use these words in different cont...more
Sophoula
This book is absolutely marvelous. I keep finding myself reading parts of it out loud to my boyfriend/dogs, ever willing audience that they are. What I appreciate about the writing is that it is accessible and concise -- the writing is neither arrogant nor overwrought. Each word has approximately three to four pages dedicated to it, and through the word, Crystal weaves the tale of English history, as demonstrated by both the word as well as the linguistic phenomenon it is showcasing. It is clear...more
Lucy
I love books on words and the history of English and this book features both. It uses Crystal's choice of 100 words to represent both themselves and also groups of words such as Music to show spelling variations in the past, Fopdoodle to represent lost words, Hello as a word influenced by technology, Gotcha for non-standard spelling, Dinkum for Australian words, Sudoku as a modern word borrowing (from Japan). The words are in order by their introduction but there is a Word Index in the back to h...more
Eric
Mar 15, 2014 Eric rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Fans of the history of English
Enjoyable non-technical ride through the history of English, by and through 100 words, each providing entry into a broader topic on the language. David Crystalalways provides a fun read.
Zelda
Very enjoyable on all levels. The author reading his own work always brings a clarity to the reading that you just can't get any other way. I loved when he would slip into what must have been the Scouse of his youth spent in Liverpool. His American accent was unfortunate though, very much informed by a kind of western, cowboy-ish, vaguely Texan twang.

While in no way a scholarly work it is clear that David Crystal is a scholarly man with a keen understanding of pop culture and an ability to step...more
Dale
English major nerds, holla! This a great overview of how the English language developed and continues to develop from the earliest identifying runes carved into objects to the ephemeral electron of our interwebs age. 100 different words were selected to illustrate and encapsulate certain milestones and trends in the evolution of English in a page or two of meditation, but the book also touches on additional verbal sand-outs to flesh out every idea. Terrific fun if you have anyinterest at all in...more
Megan
This book consists of 100 short essays, each focusing on a particular English word. Each word is illustrative of a general tendency or style of word formation/acquisition in the language. For instance, "chattels" is used to illustrate legal language. "Pork" is used to illustrate words coming from the French, esp. for food, to make it sound more elegant - and also how words can develop interesting slang connotations. "Gotcha" exemplifies non-standard spellings, and "jail" talks about competitive...more
Dawn
It was interesting.

It turns out I don't know very much about the English language. I never gave much thought to it. As an American, my language originated in England, obviously. I never stopped to think about how the language began in England. Thus, the beginning words were interesting to me. I liked reading about English's early words and which other languages they were brought from. For the later words, I wish the author had give more explanation on why he had chosen those specific words. Each...more
Zara
This was a very entertaining read, looking at the English language through choosing a hundred words and looking at their importance to the evolving language as a whole. I loved how it looked at each word in depth, as opposed to some books which include hundreds of words and don't explore each word's origins which is disappointing! Personally, I preferred the earlier words as their roots were fascinating. Some of the words themselves I had never heard of before and vowed to try and use! The later...more
Mama Kaye
A fascinating and fun work -- 100 chapters, each one focusing on a specific word that illustrates a certain principle or aspect of the English language, showing how it developed and continues to change. It was hugely entertaining and I also learned a lot. I especially enjoyed the chapters on "taboo words" such as the f-word, as well as the chapters on how modern technology is changing language, and the chapters on... well, actually, I just really enjoyed it all. The author, David Crystal, is als...more
Amy
I first heard of this book from an NPR interview with the author. Since English is my second language, I got so interested in this topic and bought the book right after that. However, I have to say, these little stories did not show me why these words were selected. Nor did I know more about culture of language evolution. Really, most of the time the auther is just laying out facts as to what other variations one word ever had before the current form became widely accepted. There is no rationale...more
Catlyn Caldart
This book was fascinating! I listened to it on CD in my car, which was the first time I've ever listened to a book on CD (I highly recommend it...and will be eagerly scouring the library shelves for more books on CD).

This book. 100 words, ranging from the c-word to "fopdoodle" to "the" to "-ology." I learned so much about English, where our words came from, and how our language has changed over the years. The author is British, so a lot of overlap between British English and American English, w...more
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David Crystal works from his home in Holyhead, North Wales, as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster. Born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland in 1941, he spent his early years in Holyhead. His family moved to Liverpool in 1951, and he received his secondary schooling at St Mary's College. He read English at University College London (1959-62), specialised in English language studies, did some rese...more
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