in honor of national grammar day on sunday, i’ve been celebrating our lovely language this week. today’s bookworm review is on a book that does just that: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English by John McWhorter (4 of 5 stars).
i have always enjoyed mcwhorter’s style of teaching — i borrowed his lecture on “the story of language” from the library and listened to all twelve hours in rapt attention. i admit that i’m already a fan of the subject matter, but mcwhorter has a way of making the international origins of English words and syntax patterns seem like a lively story.
he covers everything from the the odd use of the word “do” in question form to the claim that language reveals culture. i connected with his attitude toward the maddening nature of arbitrary English rules…he seemed to convey an exasperated affection as you would feel for an unruly family member.
one of my favorite things about this book is that he points out how it’s silly to get upset over broken rules like a preposition at the end of a sentence or split infinitives, because the entire history of the English language is of an ever-changing grammar with many broken rules along the way. somehow my brain naturally distinguishes between an evolving way of communication like simplified sentence structure (acceptable), and blatant, lazy errors like mistaken homophones: it’s/its, their/there, or your/you’re (so annoying).
this book may not be your cup of tea, but it is certainly not out of reach, even if you are not a linguaphile. if you speak English, you can appreciate this story.
do you ever think about why we use the words we do? what is one oddity of the English language that has always made you scratch your head in wonder?