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| 27 September 2012 | Reply

Published by: Profile Books (through Allen & Unwin), rrp $22.99
Released:  1 September 2012
Review by Shane Pinnegar

The very learned David Crystal tells the story of our mixed up, multicultural, ever-evolving, living language by citing no less than one hundred examples – all different – of how words entered our language.

From Roe – possibly the first word to kickstart the modern English language from a Germanic dialect, through words that named places, abbreviations, words from Latin, Roman, Greek, German and Scandinavian dialects or French and Italian, vocabulary poured into English from the 8th century onwards.

Exclamations such as ‘what’, Celtic additions, poetic descriptions, legal words, doublets and triplets, idioms and exotic words from the subcontinent and Africa – they’re all discussed here with humour and a refreshing lack of academia and stuffiness, making this a fascinating and easy to read book for the scholarly and casually interested alike.

Fascinating history abounds – the language was only named English in the Tenth century!  Hello only came into use around 200 years ago!  Cattle used to be used to refer to ANY group of livestock – even bees!

There are many more intriguing facts to glean from these 300 pages, not least the origins of modern words such as Unfriend and Twittersphere, but amongst the favourites must surely be the background of the word Strine – “a comic effect” based on the drawling twang of the Aussie accent pronouncing “Australian” itself.

In an amusing aside Crystal relates the tale reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1964 of the English author Monica Dickens who, whilst signing books in store one fine day, was approached by a woman who said “Emma Chisit”.  Dickins duly signed the book “To Emma Chisit” only to be berated by the puzzled lady.  Emma Chisit?  “How much is it?”

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