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The Story of English

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,708 Ratings  ·  107 Reviews
Now revised, The Story of English is the first book to tell the whole story of the English language. Originally paired with a major PBS miniseries, this book presents a stimulating and comprehensive record of spoken and written English—from its Anglo-Saxon origins some two thousand years ago to the present day, when English is the dominant language of commerce and culture ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published December 31st 2002 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1986)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 29, 2011 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, non-fiction
This was a thorough, informative and entertaining view of how the English language developed. It is still very current in its info. It is amazing to realize how very differently people speak this language, even in the USA.
Nov 09, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it
For anyone who speaks English, or has tried to master its unruly spelling and grammar this book is a must. It explains WHY the English language is a linguistic hodgepodge as we know it today, and why we still use those crazy silent "gh"s as in laugh, taught, etc., and other assorted spellings and pronunciations that frustrate even native speakers. If you're interested in word origins & idioms, you'll learn about the many authors writing in English who "invented " thousands of new words over ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 09, 2015 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: English fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
I believe this was found amongst the books in the now-defunct Ennui Cafe on Sheridan and Lunt in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. Since about half of the volumes there were my contributions I felt free to walk with it.

The Story of English came out in 1986 linked with a PBS/BBC 9-part series of the same title. I never saw the show, but my appreciation for the book didn't seem to depend on that. As someone who had never before read a book-length history of the language, I found the text to be c
Jul 09, 2015 Kris rated it really liked it
Finally finished trudging through this monstrosity, cover to cover. It's an excellent textbook, chock full of history, politics, and specific examples. History and linguistics come together! How exciting!

I especially loved the fact that specific words are used within the broader storyline. The author will be talking about how one people group moved and their vocab changed, and will throw in pronunciations of specific words and their meanings as proof of that. Just a sampling among many cases, bu
Christina Dawn

“There were few other joys. The Indians were hostile from the beginning. When they killed one of the colonists ‘wading in the water alone, almost naked, without any weapon saue onely a smal forked sticke, catching Crabs’, the situation became desperate. White was prevailed upon by the other colonists to return to England for help, mainly food and supplies.

What took place after White’s departure is a mystery. He was, as it happened, unable to return as quickly as he would have liked
Todd Stockslager
Jun 04, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: The global language

Cover subtitle: A companion to the PBS television series.

The English language is a fascinating subject for me, and for many. It is the tool we use to live, work, and play, and unlike the TV technology that threatened to atrophy language skills (remember the idioms "the idiot box:", the "boob tube", or the "one-eyed babysitter"?), today's portable device-driven social media is intensely verbal. While we might argue whether text/twitter syntax and spelling is innov
Jul 08, 2014 Stephanie rated it liked it
This book traces the history and evolution of the English language. It begins with the British Isles, examining how 'English' came to be and comparing the situation in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The history and politics that shaped the language are clearly and concisely described. We're taken through Old and Middle English to the vibrancy of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods and then beyond.

The legacy of exploration and colonisation in bringing English to other shores is also exami
William Schram
The Story of English is titled about as literally as it comes. It is the story of the English language from its beginnings back in the middle ages to the current year of 1986(to the book). So it covers different areas and places that came into contact with the budding English language, and different events that shaped it. For instance, I learned that William the Conqueror was from Norman France, and wanted French to be the language of the educated and cultured. However, within a few generations ...more
David R.
Jan 28, 2013 David R. rated it really liked it
Shelves: unclassified, england
A fascinating survey of English, with special focus on variants in such places as Australia, Ireland, Canada, Jamaica, and India. McCrum satisfactorily explains how English moved from a marginal tongue to a world-class language of commerce in barely five centuries. What is more, he provides evidence for the marvelous inventive and absorbtive qualities of English that give some hints of its future.
Dec 28, 2012 Jeremy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an interesting read, full of fun facts about my native tongue, and an easy-to-read style. It managed to touch on plenty of things regarding a topic that is, admittedly, a massive one; but sometimes left me wanting more.

The structure was open and intuitive, but prone to repetition, or perhaps a strange kind of literary déjà vu where repetition wasn't actually present.
Aug 20, 2015 Elizabeth rated it liked it
This book was disappointing. The content was interesting, but relatively shallow. This book would be best for somebody who has very little experience learning of the history of English. Even for a quick overview, it surprises me how little is covered.

The other problem with this book is that it is far from scholarly - and not only because it's intended for a popular audience. There are a number of what, at best, must be typos. For example, the author once incorrectly labels a century. I don't rem
A fascinating and thorough book. I also had the pleasure of watching the BBC series when it came out. The two together made a singularly enlightning experience.
Aug 31, 2011 Anna rated it it was amazing
One could call this awesome book... the grand and unarguable defense of quaint southern-isms.
Feb 21, 2015 Stephen rated it really liked it
This is another “vintage books” find since it was published in 1986 as an accompaniment to a PBS series (I was 13 at the time, and therefore oblivious). On the whole, it is an interesting and linguistically-thorough read, covering the “creation” of the Old English language to the evolution of its many colorful branches in all corners of the world. It is not without its timestamps though, and the entire first chapter can be ignored because as we all know, languages are “living” socially-construct ...more
Aug 30, 2010 Joann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
One of my all time favorites!
May 29, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it
It's taken moving to a non-English speaking country to realize how wide spread and common place the English languages is in the World. This has piqued my interest in learning about the origins of our bastard tongue and how it got to this position.

The book was first written in the 1980s and was most recently revised in 2002, which makes it sometimes sound out of date in style. I would also say that since then English has become even more dominant, and some cultures less resistant to it.

The first
Oct 24, 2014 Carolyn rated it really liked it
I think my interest in language began with my stint as a Latin teacher for a few years. Only with that kind of push from behind would I have chosen to read The Story of English, which is based on the PBS series by the same name. The 384 page book is not a quick read, but in places is was thought-provoking and fun. What I basically discovered is that language is created and and altered from the grass-roots up. That lower level is usually a playground where the language of stick ball or baseball a ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
What a marvelous romp through the labyrinth of English language history, change and variation. From the Angles and the Saxons to the Bayou and Chinese English, McCrum, MacNeil and Cran are our charming British guides to the universe of English. Their Anglophonic appear only occasionally, as when comparing American idioms and pronunciations with their own. Who would have thought that topics like "Spelling" and "The Great Vowel Shift" could be romping good fun? This book is in depth enough that I ...more
Aug 31, 2012 Jun added it
See review from my blog:

The Story of English is a classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. English and history are two of my least favorite subjects and so naturally I should be repelled by a book containing the history of the English language. But, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and to my surprise I’m enjoying it.

I haven’t finished this book yet, but I’m writing this review cause I think it requires a progressive review. There is just too m
May 23, 2014 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Getting air, a new surfing manoeuvre, was coined in 1984. By the time this book is printed, term may already by obsolete."

Totally and fer sure, dude. But part of the joy of re-reading the 1986 first edition is to be taken back a generation, with the perspective that entails. It helps to emphasize the point that language is a moving target for scholarship.

The book is based on a TV series that is, I think, available on YouTube; while the book form allows much more scope and density, what's missi
Nov 10, 2008 Ilana rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs, language buffs
Recommended to Ilana by: my dad
If you are a nut about etymology and history (like me)this is the book for you! I love this book. I particularly like the early history which begins with the Angles and Saxons invasion of Britain. It is an engaging, at times text-book like narrative that takes you from the 11th century, to the first immigrants to North America, all the way to the present (well, the 80's- at least in my archaic version). The most fascinating part was to learn of isolated parts of the United States like the island ...more
Jan 21, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: language
This was (somewhat surprisingly) an enjoyable read. For being non-fiction it was interesting that I still got that urge to keep reading at the end of chapters that I get with a good novel. The lay out was well done. My one criticism is that this was the 3rd revised addition... how about revised and updated??? This was first written in 1984 and it definitely showed it's age (last revision 2002). It was almost laughable when they spoke about current events or words that had recently come into vogu ...more
Hangci Du
Mar 25, 2015 Hangci Du rated it it was amazing
Read in Chinese version.

This is a big book about very detailed history. It's not only about English, but also about the race, literature and religion. As a Chinese, I got a lot from this book to know about the Western culture.

I read it very quickly. I skimmed the first 3 chapters and scan the last ones. I was juet to know more about English so I can do better in English vocabulary. The book is beyond my expectation.
Jan 29, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing
I read this something like 20 years ago, and I can still vividly remember many of the fantastic stories it told. The English language is perhaps unique as a global language, and this book charts its success, not by closing itself off from foreign words, like French, but by embracing them. English isn't a language of the British - it barely contains a handful of words from the original Celtic inhabitants.

Instead English a mix of words from all over the planet - everything from its Franco-Germani
Dec 31, 2014 Sunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I nearly failed the history of English in college, because it's a tougher subject to master than one might think, especially if you are not good at learning foreign languages because older English is very foreign to the modern eye. But this oversuzed trade paperback which is pavked with illustrations like a Time Life book of yore, makes this language history fun..
Apr 25, 2016 Abigail rated it liked it
Shelves: language
An interesting look at the history of the English language. It took me a long time to read this book as at times it is not the most engaging. In fact it's down right dry. It had it's good points though and my favorite parts described where specific words and phrases came from. If the book had more of that, I probably would have liked it more.

This book is a companion to a TV documentary that came out in the 80s I believe. As a result this book is rather dated. This is most apparent in the last ch
Feb 09, 2014 Anita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly smitten. The PBS series was super entertaining, and this companion book is no different. You really don't have to have seen the series to love the book; its it's own entity. If you're a geeky dorky nerd about the English language, this will make you a happy individual. Starts with the Saxons & Celts, moves on to Shakespeare, the evolution of the English language in Britain, then America. Whole chapters are devoted to forms of English developed by the Scots, the Irish, Black Americans ...more
Dec 09, 2015 Charles rated it liked it
Lots of entertaining details, but a little bit too much 'and this word came from HERE, while this word came from HERE.' I also have a hard time following many of the accent distinctions, though I'm not sure how to fix that apart from making it an audiobook.
Mar 24, 2010 Lily rated it really liked it
A fascinating account of the history of the English language, from its humble roots in what is now Germany and the Netherlands to the global language it is today. How has British exploration preserved a slice of 17th century English? How did the English language become so diverse and vast?

A great companion piece to the TV series of the same name, the book is much more in depth than the television program, but it obviously lacks the audio aspect that is key in understanding how the sound of Engli
Mar 03, 2013 Lisa rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic tale of the English language. It's a little outdated as it was written in the 1980s and a lot has happened in the last 30 years, especially the internet. I wonder what Robert McCrum thinks about "googling"? He seems to be the type to embrace the language and the changes so I think he would approve. Anyway English is my mother tongue but it's not my parents' mother tongue as they are both from immigrant families to North America in the 1900s. I speak Canadian English with a go ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: PAge numbers on The Story of English 5 19 Mar 23, 2015 04:38AM  
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Robert McCrum is an associate editor of the Observer. He was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly 20 years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber. He is the co-author of The Story of English (1986), and has written six novels. He was the literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008, and has been a regular contributor to the Guardian since 1990
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