Jenn's Reviews > The Power of Babel

The Power of Babel by John McWhorter
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's review
Mar 14, 2011

really liked it
Read from March 14 to April 10, 2011

This is the second of McWhorter's books that I've read, and although I liked the first one (Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue) better, this one was worth reading for someone like me, whose vocation and avocation depend on language. McWhorter does what good popularizers do: he makes complicated ideas accessible to lay readers without condescension. But I do get the feeling sometimes that he's like that guy we all knew in college, the one who was totally into computers, say, and who, unlike most computer geeks, didn't have contempt for those of us who dissolved into panicky helplessness when our papers kept printing out with formatting so bizarre we could taste the "F" we were sure to get for our lateness and incompetence. That guy not only fixed the formatting, got the paper printed in plenty of time, and was happy to help, but he explained what had gone wrong in great detail as well as describing the solution, slipping merrily into jargon and examples and illustrations that made no more sense than a recipe handwritten in Cyrillic before returning to the safely familiar territory of such advice as "if that doesn't work, hit CTR+ALT+DEL." That is, sometimes, McWhorter's examples are not that helpful. But around them are some very cool ideas about language and how it changes over time and space.
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03/14/2011 page 14
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