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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  12,036 ratings  ·  729 reviews
In Made in America, Bill 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"; and exactly why Mr. Yankee Doodle called his feathered cap "Macaroni."
Paperback, 364 pages
Published October 23rd 2001 by Avon Books (first published 1994)
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3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,036 ratings  ·  729 reviews


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Paul Bryant
Oct 31, 2007 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
...more
RandomAnthony
Mar 15, 2009 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 26, 2012 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
Negin
May 29, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
This was thoroughly researched and full of trivia-type facts of U.S. history and the evolution of words in American English. Much of these facts were fascinating, but then the book got boring. Maybe it was the layout and the way that all the facts were organized. I can’t really tell. This being Bill Bryson, well, I guess that I wanted to like it much more than I did. I definitely prefer his travelogues, which are among my favorite books ever.
David
Nov 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to David by: david-giltinan@sbcglobal.net
Shelves: read-in-2009
WARNING: THIS REVIEW STOOPS TO LOW GIMMICKRY!

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
...more
Katie
Jan 28, 2009 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
nettebuecherkiste
Bill Bryson hat sich als Autor zahlreicher Sachbücher über ein großes Spektrum hinweg einen Namen gemacht und wird von vielen besonders für sein Talent, die witzigsten Geschichten und Fakten ausfindig zu machen, sowie seinen trockenen Humor geliebt. Ich muss gestehen, dass ich bisher außer Notes From a Small Island nichts von ihm gelesen habe – was aber nicht an mangelndem Interesse liegt, sondern an der überwältigenden Anzahl von Büchern, die ich unbedingt bald lesen muss.

Der Titel des Buchs „M
...more
Jaylia3
Jan 27, 2009 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.
Lars Guthrie
Dec 19, 2008 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
Bandit
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the author who consistently manages to write the exact sort of nonfiction I enjoy comes a history of American, that very specific form of linguistic mutilation bestowed upon proper English by our fair nation. This isn't just a linguistic study though, this is very much an American history book told from a perspective of a linguist and/or etymologist. While American history doesn't interest me all that much (which didn't preclude me from learning about as much as a person can about it throug ...more
Vasco Simões
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books
Para quem gosta de história como eu e tem sempre curiosidade por saber de onde vêm as coisas então este é definitivamente um livro que vão gostar. Tenho a sensação de que acabei de ler uma enciclopédia. Desde os colonos até ao nosso século há tanta referência a tanta coisa. Pessoas, palavras, expressões, comidas, locais, objetivos...um mundo de conhecimento ao nosso dispôr e de forma acessível. É para mim um dos melhores do Bill Bryson e com muito mais ritmo e interesse (a meu ver) do que Notas ...more
Michael
Jul 16, 2010 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
Niranjan M
Apr 18, 2016 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
Annk
Jun 29, 2016 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.
Sarina M
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Another wonderful Bryson book. I simply adore his writing style. His books are like candy. The one detraction from this book is the length. I wish that this was a history of the US, instead of a history of the English language in the US. Some of the etymology is truly interesting, but the long lists of words and fixation of spelling variances throughout history are tedious. If this was taken out (or slimmed down) it would be a much better book. Even so, this is a really enjoyable book as underne ...more
Mel
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Oh my gosh I finally finished this book. It’s not that it was a bad book. It actually was quite informative and entertaining. I have read many Bryson books and I know he is a detailed guy but this book was the king of detail. Kind of a slog at times. Lots of cool facts though, if only I could remember them.
Stacy
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. I loved it.
Wsm
May 12, 2018 added it
This is Bryson's take on the evolution of American English.For those like myself,who are more familiar with British English,it is very enlightening.
Guy
Oct 24, 2010 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
...more
Edward
Dec 22, 2015 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
Thomas Houghton
3 Stars - Good

The Premise
Bill Bryson takes a trip through the history of America in an attempt to identify and explain some of the origins and peculiarities behind phrases and popular words.

Pros and Cons

Positives:
- The book is well structured and follows a winding path through the american vocabulary, using a good range of themes to guide the reader through the development of the American language.
- Where this book excels is when it combines rich explanations of certain vocabulary with a brief r
...more
Sarah
As much as I love Bill Bryson's writing, I found it reeeeeeeeeally difficult to get through "Made in America." I learned a lot of interesting facts and the book did clear up some misconceptions I had, but it didn't make up for the fact that some of the sections in this book were incredibly boring. I know that the book was primarily supposed to be about the origins of everyday words and phrases, but sometimes it felt like Bryson went a bit overboard. It felt like I was reading a dictionary, and h ...more
Nancy
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
I love this man's ability to observe human behavior and cultural differences and tell it all in a way that is funny, endearing and gives us a feeling of connectedness no matter where we live.
Wanda
You’d think a history of Americanisms would be dry but that’s not the case. Bryson keeps the tone light and entertaining with lots of anecdotes about the evolution of the English language in America. It’s the perfect companion to The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. They even share this striking quote from the 1815 North American Review,

“How tame will his language sound, who would describe Niagara in language fitted for the falls at London bridge
...more
Ryan
Mar 16, 2010 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
...more
Rusty
May 02, 2016 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
...more
Jill
Jul 30, 2013 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
...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: Anecdotal history of America and its English
Bryson, before he was so well known (tellingly, there is no author bio on the back cover or inside the book), writes a casual stroll through American English. The only drawback is that his obvious delight in and liberal scattering of offbeat anecdotes sometimes make it seem as though the "informal history of the English language" subtitle is just an excuse for an anecdotal history of the US.

So while not exhaustive, it is informative and f
...more
David
Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, linguistics
This is a hugely entertaining book, with more bits of trivia than you can shake a stick at. The subtitle is An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. While the subject of language fills up about half of the book, the other half is not really about language at all; it is a collection of anecdotes about American history. Bryson blends the subjects of language and history together rather well, but it sometimes seems like the same strategy that various TV dramas use nowadays; ...more
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS 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 Continent, Bil
...more
“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'.” 7 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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