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Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling

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3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  116 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Welcome to the illogical, idiosyncratic, outrageous linguistic phenomenon known as the English language. The story of how this ragtag collection of words evolved is a winding tale replete with intriguing accidents and bizarre twists of fate. In this eye-opening, fabulously entertaining book, James Essinger unlocks the mysteries that have confounded linguists and scholars f ...more
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Published May 1st 2007 by Delta (first published 2006)
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Hannah
Jun 20, 2013 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, language
I love browsing the library nonfiction shelves because I sometimes happen on books like this: funny, short, entertaining, and genuinely surprising. The title is not an exaggeration. I thought I more or less knew the origins of English spelling: Germanic Saxon, Norman French, Latin, Celtic, adopted foreign words, blah blah. Oh, UK English and American English are slightly different! Big deal, right?

But Essinger explores so many facets of Old English, Middle English, and modern English so well th
...more
Sara
A fun and clever read. I've read plenty of books on the English language and the vagaries of our spelling. As far as English spelling is concerned, this didn't really go into detail like some of the other books and I knew most of what was in this book.

That being said, the author is fun to read and the anecdotes were great. Some sections of the book even merited being retold to my husband. I'm also now going to read the novel Trainspotting. I didn't realize how much of a Scottish accent you could
...more
Lindsay
Jun 24, 2010 Lindsay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting to really like this book since I'm a total whore for anything language related, but I was actually pretty bored by it. It didn't really tell me much that I hadn't already learned about the general history of the English language, and the author's style was kind of off-putting. He inserted way too much of himself into the book, with really random comments and opinions. I guess I was looking for something more nerdily academic, while this book was clearly intended to be a bit more ...more
David
Feb 04, 2008 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language geeks
More interesting than you might think. Essinger writes with an enthusiasm which is engaging, though I confess that my interest did start to flag somewhere around the 3/4 mark.

English spelling is notoriously frustrating. My personal belief is that there is actually a 'spelling gene', which is distinct from overall intelligence and linguistic ability to a surprising degree (some of my smartest employees couldn't spell to save their lives). People who are homozygotes for possessing the ability* ar
...more
John
Jul 09, 2008 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The "spelling" aspect is quite secondary - the main "story" consists of a linguistic history of English. Dry English humor helps over the technical bumps, but if you've read The Story of English, and similar works, you've heard most of this before. One odd angle here: Essinger spent quite some time in Finland, and often uses Finnish(!) as a foreign language for comparitive purposes.
Tamara
Jun 17, 2008 Tamara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language lovers, word worshippers
This book was so much fun! I would have liked a little more depth in how words evolved, but that probably would scare off more casual readers. Good reading for people who wonder why words look the way they do and love to learn about our language.
Sandy.l_f_
Mar 18, 2017 Sandy.l_f_ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
P. 192 - "When two groups of people speaking different languages mingle socially and at work, there is always a pressure toward grammatical simplification in order to aid the processs of communication."
P. 201 - "Middle English itself can be described not only as a hybrid, but also as a convenient simplification that contains elements of both the languages from which it derives."
P. 214 - "...the century of revolutionary change in English from 1400 to 1500 involved greater change than anything tha
...more
Christina
Aug 14, 2016 Christina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
Interesting if you are an English language (or possibly any language) geek. But perhaps light on new knowledge if you've already read The Story of English. Although the focus on spelling is different here and the role of printers in standardizing spelling is a new detail for me.
Taylor
Jan 27, 2015 Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It cracked me up to read: "it is hardly surprising that many British people use American English expressions to make themselves sound sophisticated, witty, and up to date." This fellow is obviously a British author. I just never knew it went both ways!
Bruno de Maremma
Dec 24, 2007 Bruno de Maremma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
Fascinating guide through the development of the English language with interesting side trips into the creation of early alphabets, the first written germanic language, the impact of Norman French on Old English, the Great Vowel shift etc. I really enjoyed it.
James
Mar 15, 2009 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating. It really points out to me what I have always argued with people who get picky about language and that is "LANGUAGE CHANGES GET OVER IT" Even names like Shakespeare had a handful of ways it was spelled.
Deanne
Dec 06, 2008 Deanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
About the origins of English and English spelling. Very interesting and written in a way that is easy to understand.
Heather
Jun 11, 2009 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language buffs
Recommended to Heather by: saw it in the store
Shelves: own, history, language
A lay-person's read for why English is spelled the way it's spelled. It was very interesting and entertaining, but I'm a nerd...
Sally
Feb 17, 2008 Sally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Victoria
Oct 30, 2007 Victoria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at the perverseness of English spelling - could have been a bit tidier in the telling...
Amanda Witt
A great basic introduction of how the English language as we know it know, came into being, with words from other languages thanks to invasions of Britain from 1000 years ago.
Kelly Park
Sep 19, 2008 Kelly Park is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
great so far, very british, very humorous.
T. Strange
Jul 14, 2013 T. Strange rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: review
Excellent. Witty, informative, gives plenty of examples of what he's illustrating.
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Dawn
Jul 30, 2013 Dawn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, nonfiction
Interesting, but it could have had more examples and gone more in depth.
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Hi! My name is James Essinger and I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction.

In my fiction I have a particular interest in personal relationships, travel, history, information technology and chess.

In my non-fiction I have a particular interest in the history of computing, and in language.

I was born in Leicester in the English Midlands in 1957 and I attended Overdale Junior School in Leicester and als
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More about James Essinger...

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