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Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation

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The author of Reading the OED presents a look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not. English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impol The author of Reading the OED presents a look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not. English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impolite, or just plain wrong. Filled with historic and contemporary examples, the book chronicles the long and entertaining history of language mistakes, and features some of our most common words and phrases. This is a book that will settle arguments among word lovers—and it’s sure to start a few, too.


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The author of Reading the OED presents a look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not. English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impol The author of Reading the OED presents a look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not. English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impolite, or just plain wrong. Filled with historic and contemporary examples, the book chronicles the long and entertaining history of language mistakes, and features some of our most common words and phrases. This is a book that will settle arguments among word lovers—and it’s sure to start a few, too.

30 review for Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    This book rocked my world. I have been (until today?) a pacifistic pedant--someone who silently judges others' grammatical errors without daring to interrupt and correct them. Shea's book tells me to relax, or maybe to go to hell. Shea has researched the history of usage for dozens of words and phrases whose use is closely monitored by those who would defend proper English. Shea's devastating point is that "proper English" is inevitably arbitrary, far more so than any of us would care to admit. W This book rocked my world. I have been (until today?) a pacifistic pedant--someone who silently judges others' grammatical errors without daring to interrupt and correct them. Shea's book tells me to relax, or maybe to go to hell. Shea has researched the history of usage for dozens of words and phrases whose use is closely monitored by those who would defend proper English. Shea's devastating point is that "proper English" is inevitably arbitrary, far more so than any of us would care to admit. Words and their meanings change in a language as widely used as English, and we should celebrate that instead of moaning about "uninterested/disinterested" (which used to mean the REVERSE of what they mean now, according to Shea!). What we think is correct was not always so, even very recently. A common theme in this book is quoting many of the great authors of English letters who frequently commit grievous errors against the Mother Tongue. If it was good enough for Shakespeare and Twain, who are we to say that it isn't good enough for us? A fascinating side note is that Shea seems to be writing this book out of anger. His previous book, about reading the Oxford English Dictionary, apparently produced some small amount of scathing commentary about perceived deviations in his book from accepted writing style. So Shea decided to prove them wrong. Cleverly divided into small segments devoted to individual words, the book is engaging and easy to read. I shall never again cringe when I read or hear someone use the word "literally" to mean "figuratively."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Another fun [if I may use that "slovenly adjective"] romp through the English language with Ammon Shea! Those who take a prescriptive approach to English grammar will be outraged by his sly and humorous undercutting of many beloved and bogus ["a colloquial term incompatible with dignified diction"] rules that attempt to govern "our magnificent bastard tongue" [in the words of John McWhorter]. I found it to be well written, informative, and diverting [and yes, I do insist on using the Oxford comm Another fun [if I may use that "slovenly adjective"] romp through the English language with Ammon Shea! Those who take a prescriptive approach to English grammar will be outraged by his sly and humorous undercutting of many beloved and bogus ["a colloquial term incompatible with dignified diction"] rules that attempt to govern "our magnificent bastard tongue" [in the words of John McWhorter]. I found it to be well written, informative, and diverting [and yes, I do insist on using the Oxford comma]. But [if I may start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction] I draw the line when it comes to wildly splitting infinitives and putting prepositions places they should not be in. As I was putting away this volume, I found that I have an entire shelf of books on the history of English and the doomed attempts to make it either adhere to the rules of Latin grammar or to free its Anglo-Saxon purity from the inroads of Latinate diction. I suppose that, although I have been known to go on about the effect of restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses on the uses of "which," I am more in the descriptive camp with Shea and McWhorter and somewhat sanguine about the chances of English continuing to be a creative and elegant language despite inevitable changes. Like, I mean, what could possibly go wrong, you know?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Mr. Shea takes an in-depth look at the evolution of our English language. Traveling along an easily understood timeline he looks at words and phrases that began as mistakes and misspeaks yet have now become commonplace and acceptable in both the written and spoken word. And yes, there is a difference in what is acceptable in written and in spoken English. Just to enlighten you a little, “stupider” is not a word and “OMG” is not a 21st century acronym. Language is alive and as such it evolves wit Mr. Shea takes an in-depth look at the evolution of our English language. Traveling along an easily understood timeline he looks at words and phrases that began as mistakes and misspeaks yet have now become commonplace and acceptable in both the written and spoken word. And yes, there is a difference in what is acceptable in written and in spoken English. Just to enlighten you a little, “stupider” is not a word and “OMG” is not a 21st century acronym. Language is alive and as such it evolves with the times. Mr. Shea does not only look at the words themselves but also at punctuation and grammar. Did you know there are seven – SEVEN – acceptable uses for an apostrophe? There are a multitude of words that began life as nouns and now are acceptable to use as verbs and adjectives. And yes, sometimes it is acceptable to split an infinitive. (Currently thumbing my nose at my grade 10 English teacher) Every good teacher follows a lesson with a quiz, right? Well, Mr. Shea does not deviate and offers a quiz made up of 14 quotations asking his readers to choose which are by Shakespeare and which come from the “disparate world of hi-hop/rap”. As you are muttering the phrase “piece of cake” under your breath, let me tell you, not quite as simple as it sounds. This book is well researched and Mr. Shea quotes his sources (endlessly). Irregardless (which I now KNOW is NOT a real word) and probably included as a preventative (which I now also KNOW is NOT a real word) measure to keep his readers from inadvertently making an error, the only fault I could find with this book comes at the end when Mr. Shea sites, defines and gives the appropriate reference for 221 accepted and commonly used words which were once frowned upon, some examples being: vest, upcoming, rotten, ice cream, balding, donate, fine and awful, etc (ekscetera which – I NOW KNOW – is acceptable for use in writing but never in speaking). Although this section was an interesting addition to the book it did seem to go on and on and on and on. So how did I, a reader of primarily fiction end up with this book on my reading list? As difficult as it may be to believe I recently found myself in a discussion about verbosity, vocabulary, vernacular, comma splices and run on sentences. A few days later I was checking my library site for their newest audio book additions and this one popped up. Coincidence? I think not! I had to give it a listen. It was entertaining and, as much as I hate to admit it, I did learn a thing or two. If you are a constant reader, a writer, a speaker, a teacher or just someone enthralled with this English language we profess to know and understand, this would be a handy reference book to keep on that little shelf close to your desk, maybe between your dictionary and your thesaurus.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dorrit

    Boring!

  5. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    An anti-prescriptivist exercise, perhaps part of the runaway hit niche subgenre of lexicographers’ humor. Provides historical analysis of the usage of favorites such as: hopefully, literally, decimate, enormity, enervate, aggravate, unique, belittle, balding, stupider, irregardless, impact, finalize, contact, fun, very, inter alia. Reconsiders grammatical rules upon which linguistic fascists continue to insist: split infinitives, different from/than, but v. and, that v. which, prepositions at the An anti-prescriptivist exercise, perhaps part of the runaway hit niche subgenre of lexicographers’ humor. Provides historical analysis of the usage of favorites such as: hopefully, literally, decimate, enormity, enervate, aggravate, unique, belittle, balding, stupider, irregardless, impact, finalize, contact, fun, very, inter alia. Reconsiders grammatical rules upon which linguistic fascists continue to insist: split infinitives, different from/than, but v. and, that v. which, prepositions at the end of a sentence, I v. me, and so on. Final essay is an exercise in egalitarianism, and analyzes Orwell’s famous essay, ‘Politics and the English Language,’ particularly its six rules for effective communication, which Orwell more or less breaks in the course of the essay. Good stuff. Recommended for bulbitators, lurcators, and the liguritious.

  6. 5 out of 5

    PoligirlReads

    This was a good read! Shea is a very humorous writer. What I enjoyed was that this book underscored the fluidity of the English language and how many of the rules of writing are a relatively modern concept. Are there rules? Yes. But the idea is that rigidity that some may wish, simply cannot win over popular usage (like starting sentences with "but"). The setup was fun. Each chapter would begin with a quoted "rule," followed by another quote that directly contradicts it. Even better was when it This was a good read! Shea is a very humorous writer. What I enjoyed was that this book underscored the fluidity of the English language and how many of the rules of writing are a relatively modern concept. Are there rules? Yes. But the idea is that rigidity that some may wish, simply cannot win over popular usage (like starting sentences with "but"). The setup was fun. Each chapter would begin with a quoted "rule," followed by another quote that directly contradicts it. Even better was when it would come from the same source! I got a kick from the Potato(e) chapter, on how all Americans now know how to correctly spell potato due to the unfortunate Dan Quayle. Or, as Shea notes, "Dan Quayle died for your sins." Ha! Two highlights in particular are the listing of the vulgar Americanisms...that are actually British in origin, and "Shakespeare vs. Hip-hop: who said it?"

  7. 4 out of 5

    CM

    Between You and I, split infinitive, hopefully and more? Here the author presents a historical analysis on each of these contested English usage. The narrative is always like this: the usage didn't get any backlash until 16th century, then some grammarians started to find fault with it and the public followed but now we are all free to say what we want as the rule against it is not coherent/logical/feasible, all presented with a long list of references. While I'm definitely on the descriptivist Between You and I, split infinitive, hopefully and more? Here the author presents a historical analysis on each of these contested English usage. The narrative is always like this: the usage didn't get any backlash until 16th century, then some grammarians started to find fault with it and the public followed but now we are all free to say what we want as the rule against it is not coherent/logical/feasible, all presented with a long list of references. While I'm definitely on the descriptivist side of such debates(so is the author), this book reminds me of the lively energy the writing of Mr David Crystal as that is more than a bit lacking here. An informative reference.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    A great book! It is literally (not figuratively) a history of grammarians' (is that apostrophe in the correct place?) gripes about the semantics and grammar of the English language, most of which I didn't know were ever a problem! It is funny and it appealed to my nerdy linguist side. If you too have a nerdy linguist side, or if you are a "grammar nazi" who needs a dose of reality, I highly recommend this book. A great book! It is literally (not figuratively) a history of grammarians' (is that apostrophe in the correct place?) gripes about the semantics and grammar of the English language, most of which I didn't know were ever a problem! It is funny and it appealed to my nerdy linguist side. If you too have a nerdy linguist side, or if you are a "grammar nazi" who needs a dose of reality, I highly recommend this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Eirschele

    Writers will want this book for a reference on their desks but, for the first time, read it through cover to cover. Worth highlighting and page marking, too.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Becky Loader

    Oh. My. Gosh. I wish my Aunt Dot was still around so that I could recommend this book to her. She and I had so many conversations about how the English language was abused/changing/morphing/degrading, etc. One of my all time pet peeves is when people decide to make a noun into a verb, and there is a chapter here entitled "Verbing Nouns." Need I say more? Ahem. E.G. "He disrespected me." No. He treated you with disrespect. Probably because you are shredding the English language. Forsooth: whither Oh. My. Gosh. I wish my Aunt Dot was still around so that I could recommend this book to her. She and I had so many conversations about how the English language was abused/changing/morphing/degrading, etc. One of my all time pet peeves is when people decide to make a noun into a verb, and there is a chapter here entitled "Verbing Nouns." Need I say more? Ahem. E.G. "He disrespected me." No. He treated you with disrespect. Probably because you are shredding the English language. Forsooth: whither camst English? Erst til dangilish!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    We all have our language peeves, plus the rules we were taught in grade school, plus Strunk and White and whatever other usage guides we consult. And much of that is wrong. Writing manuals and stylebooks are plagued by language “rules” that have no basis in English grammar, that fail to take into account the fact that living languages change, or that are someone’s “aggravations” that got codified, serving only to distinguish those in the know from the “barbarians.” Author Ammon Shea, who read the We all have our language peeves, plus the rules we were taught in grade school, plus Strunk and White and whatever other usage guides we consult. And much of that is wrong. Writing manuals and stylebooks are plagued by language “rules” that have no basis in English grammar, that fail to take into account the fact that living languages change, or that are someone’s “aggravations” that got codified, serving only to distinguish those in the know from the “barbarians.” Author Ammon Shea, who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary over the course of a year (and then wrote a book about it, “Reading the OED”), must have seen while he was reading it how many of the linguistics truths we hold dear aren’t really true at all. Couple that with all the peevers that come out of the woodwork when the topic is grammar or usage (Shea has written a couple of other books on that as well), and there’s plenty of fodder for another book, hence the informative and entertaining “Bad English.” The book directly takes on the peevers who believe that every “aggravate” meaning “irritate,” every vogue “verbed” noun, every “irregardless,” every split infinitive, every sentence-ending preposition, every sentence-starting conjunction is one more blow of the wrecking ball against our noble and pure English. And because Shea has done his homework -- what better source is there than the OED on matters of English? -- he’s not just counter-peeving, he’s backing up his assertions with research and facts, busting myths and correcting the correctors. "One of the things that is most curious about people who hold themselves up as language purists,” Shea writes, “is that they seem to spend considerably more time complaining about language than they do celebrating it, much as if an art lover focused all their efforts on diatribes about the painter who were ruining the medium rather than the ones who were advancing it." Yes, Shea used “their” as a singular on purpose. Shea breaks his examinations down into words whose meanings have changed (many words, such as “decimate,” have had this happen more than once, and Shea’s explanation of the original original meaning of “decimate” isn’t the kill-every-tenth-person sticklers would have us believe), words that are “not a word,” “verbed” nouns, grammatical gremlins, things that are “ruining the language,” and the arguments that people use to defend English. He ends up with a list of “221 Words That Were Once Frowned Upon,” from “accessorize” to “zoom,” which has some entries that will likely surprise you. The book is a fun (yes, it’s fine to use “fun” as an adjective, despite that usage having been called “slovenly” as recently as 1980, Shea notes) look at how and why peeves develop, the history of various words and usages, and the ever-shifting nature of English. “Language has an irrepressible desire to change,” Shea points out, “and there are almost no words in English that have been around for more than a few hundred years without taking on new meanings, changing their old ones, or coming to simultaneously mean one thing and the opposite.” Shea’s lively prose makes this book an enjoyable romp through the history of English while providing fodder against language alarmists. Anyone who can get the phrase “punctilious nitpickery” into print obviously has both a love of language and a sense of humor. But he does go a little overboard: He’s quite harsh on Orwell’s classic “six language rules,” focusing on the letter of the rules (and the fact that Orwell himself breaks them frequently) rather than their spirit, which allows much more flexibility. He doesn’t have a lot of patience with those who dictate language use -- referring to “screeds” by “language scolds” -- which is understandable, but he doesn’t really distinguish between the priggish prescriptivists and the people whose job it is to produce professional communication for a mass audience. As an editor, I recognize that language is a living, changing entity and that obsolete rules, rules that aren’t rules and distinctions that are simply “secret handshakes” do no one any good. I also know that language needs to follow some standards in order to effectively and credibly communicate. “Bad English” is a great tool for arguing against the non-rules and shibboleths, but not every rule is bogus, and not every guideline is repressive or worthless. For the sake of clarity in communication, there need to be common standards -- but they need to exist for the sake of clarity, not for the sake of barring words or usages some “purists” don’t like.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Arianna

    I can't tell you how many times this book has made me laugh out loud. I utterly loved it. Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation belongs to the genre of learned exposition, although the language used is only occasionally academic. This book takes the reader on a journey through English language usage, and specifically which usages are or were considered "bad" English. Its pedagogic aim is aided by a conversational, at times quite informal style, which never takes away from the primary i I can't tell you how many times this book has made me laugh out loud. I utterly loved it. Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation belongs to the genre of learned exposition, although the language used is only occasionally academic. This book takes the reader on a journey through English language usage, and specifically which usages are or were considered "bad" English. Its pedagogic aim is aided by a conversational, at times quite informal style, which never takes away from the primary informational concern of the text. As the author himself states in the introduction, the intentional avoidance of jargon whenever possible makes the book appropriate and enjoyable for readers of any background. Shea sets the tone of the book from its very first sentence in the introduction, featuring vivid metaphorical images and irony ("the blood of a freshly wounded language"). The second sentence presents the informal verb "peeved", meaning "to irritate", again functioning as a sort of statement as to what the reader can expect from the book. The author then sets about explaining clearly the aim of his work, which is the presentation of a history of English words commonly considered "mistakes" by more prescriptive speakers, who retain a largely conservative view of language as immutable — a view Shea does not share. The introduction ends with a Note On Terminology, followed by a Note On Pronouns, announcing the use of the third-person neuter singular they to refer to any single persons of either sex; this is followed by a brief Note On Notes. Chapter One: Arguing Semantics discusses nine examples of words which have shifted in meaning in ways that have been strongly opposed by dogmatic defenders of the English language. Each subsection dedicated to one of these words opens with two quotes: one arguing against the semantic shift of the word discussed, the other either arguing in favour of it, or more commonly directly using it in speech or writing. These quotes can be from different authors, or the same, and often the quote arguing against the semantic shift dates from several years later than the usage quote. Sources vary from blog posts to famous speeches to classic novels. The words discussed are hopefully, literally, disinterested/uninterested, decimate, enormity, enervate, aggravate, unique. The title of the book makes use of the more controversial meaning of aggravate, denoting the author's stance on the topic from the cover itself. Chapter Two: Words That Are Not Words opens with a discussion of "artificial" neologisms, created by single people trying to express a particular meaning; these are scofflaw, but also skycap, undefendable, as well as staycation, and more. The chapter goes on to discuss other such words which have been introduced to the language: belittle, balding, stupider, irregardless. Chapter Three: Verbing Nouns is about the productive yet controversial morphological process of zero-derivation, or conversion, through the examples of impact, finalize, contact. Chapter Four: Sins of Grammar deals with controversies around the topics of splitting infinitives (using Star Trek's famous "to boldly go" as an example), the various uses of "different than", but and and used at the beginning of sentences, fun as an adjective rather than a noun, the use of that instead of which (or vice-versa) in relative clauses, ending a sentence with a preposition, the use of very, the confusion around I vs. me in sentences such as "It is I", "Between you and I" (hypercorrection), "I'm good". Chapter Five: The Continuing Deterioration of the Language humorously takes on different ways in which English is changing, which to some who see all change as decline is cause for aggravation; it discusses the history of misuse of the apostrophe, the spelling of "potato(e)", discussion of "textspeak, emoticons" and initialisms especially in digital contexts, "ain't", leg vs. limb, donate, like. Chapter Six: Defending English opens with a section titled "English vs. Latin", followed by "An English Academy", "Shakespeare's Language", brief essays on the history of English. Chapter Seven: 221 Words That Were Once Frowned Upon, lists 221 words and a brief quote contrasting a particular (now accepted) use of it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marcella Wigg

    A decent smackdown of prescription in English grammar. Shea is preaching to the choir here. I have long been irritated by grammatical prescription. Especially by people who feel the need to correct my grammar in casual conversation. As if I, an English major in college, don't know that according to grammar rules I was taught in elementary school, the proper response to "How are you?" is "well," not "good." Shea presents the reasons why grammar hardliners should cool it, including from fronts I h A decent smackdown of prescription in English grammar. Shea is preaching to the choir here. I have long been irritated by grammatical prescription. Especially by people who feel the need to correct my grammar in casual conversation. As if I, an English major in college, don't know that according to grammar rules I was taught in elementary school, the proper response to "How are you?" is "well," not "good." Shea presents the reasons why grammar hardliners should cool it, including from fronts I had not previously considered, including the fact that in many of the examples of irritant words he offers, the usage maligned by grammarians actually predates the one promoted as more correct. Language changes, and we need to keep open minds to accept the change. Some of the words once promoted as "proper" seem completely ridiculous a century later (e.g. "limb" as a polite euphemism for "leg" among upper crust American women). That said, I found this book got a bit repetitive in parts. Maybe I just disliked the formatting: the discussions of Orwell's hypocritical failure to follow his own grammar rules and whether Shakespeare invented as many words as originally thought were way more engaging than the many, many examples described at length of prescription being incorrect or illogical in its assessment of a word or usage. This is likely the result of my being a casual reader rather than a linguist, but it affected how I felt about the book, as I wanted more essays!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    3 1/2 stars. This book presents a lot of information about grammar, and I really enjoyed that the author was objective in presenting various words, phrases, or rules that some view as correct or incorrect. It presented a lot of information, and then told "both sides" of the argument for or against that rule, including the history behind many rules or arguments. The only drawback, to me, was that I thought it could have been organized a bit better. I thought some of the chapters or way things wer 3 1/2 stars. This book presents a lot of information about grammar, and I really enjoyed that the author was objective in presenting various words, phrases, or rules that some view as correct or incorrect. It presented a lot of information, and then told "both sides" of the argument for or against that rule, including the history behind many rules or arguments. The only drawback, to me, was that I thought it could have been organized a bit better. I thought some of the chapters or way things were presented was a bit confusing, and that it could have probably been presented in a better way. This was really informative, and I enjoyed a lot of the history and background that was offered, in addition to the various rules and topics addressed.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna Kramer

    Ammon Shea brings to Bad English what most linguists lack in their prescriptivist rants: a humorous rather than indignant look at the ever-changing English language. The book is not the most useful or comprehensive investigation of "linguistic aggravation", but its insightful analysis highlights the importance of the drive to preserve language and the paradoxical absurdity of that same overwrought fervor. What Shea lacks in cohesion he makes up for in sass, his dry sarcasm well worth the frequen Ammon Shea brings to Bad English what most linguists lack in their prescriptivist rants: a humorous rather than indignant look at the ever-changing English language. The book is not the most useful or comprehensive investigation of "linguistic aggravation", but its insightful analysis highlights the importance of the drive to preserve language and the paradoxical absurdity of that same overwrought fervor. What Shea lacks in cohesion he makes up for in sass, his dry sarcasm well worth the frequently missing explanations and definitions that would make this book an essential and comprehensible read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Lee

    If you love etymology (i.e. the origin of words), then Bad English should be a pretty entertaining read! I found the book especially interesting given the fact that I've worked as an ESL teacher for years, and long ago acknowledged just how crazy the English language is... Indeed, we have no idea how wacky our language is, and we should all be humbled that so many around the world endeavor to learn it (although I know this is arguablyy a reflection of market/neocolonial/globalization/etc.... pre If you love etymology (i.e. the origin of words), then Bad English should be a pretty entertaining read! I found the book especially interesting given the fact that I've worked as an ESL teacher for years, and long ago acknowledged just how crazy the English language is... Indeed, we have no idea how wacky our language is, and we should all be humbled that so many around the world endeavor to learn it (although I know this is arguablyy a reflection of market/neocolonial/globalization/etc.... pressues, but I'll save that rant for another day).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I'm seeing myself yelling at this guy while reading -- I only agree with his "common usage trumps inflexible rules" in as much as it's accurate. e.g. "literally" for "figuratively" will forever grate the nerves. I'm seeing myself yelling at this guy while reading -- I only agree with his "common usage trumps inflexible rules" in as much as it's accurate. e.g. "literally" for "figuratively" will forever grate the nerves.

  18. 5 out of 5

    J

    Provided a better understanding of how meanings shift over time and how debates about the 'proper' use of language unfold as these ideas are negotiated. The writing itself was nimble and clear. Provided a better understanding of how meanings shift over time and how debates about the 'proper' use of language unfold as these ideas are negotiated. The writing itself was nimble and clear.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlyn Caughfield

    If you are interested in linguistics or wanting a response to those people who constantly judge the way that you use English, then this is an enjoyable, attainable, and humorous read. If these things are not within your area of interest, then this one probably isn't for you. If you are interested in linguistics or wanting a response to those people who constantly judge the way that you use English, then this is an enjoyable, attainable, and humorous read. If these things are not within your area of interest, then this one probably isn't for you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    We have two parties on English usage - the descriptivists and the perscriptivists - as Mary Noris remarks in Between You and Me, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... we may as well be the democrats and the republicans. When it comes to standard written English - see David Foster Wallace on Authority and American Usage essay in Consider the Lobster - I am in the prescriptivist party. So I am predisposed to pan a descriptivist book and Shea's sneaky ways and filler fulled writing doesn't help We have two parties on English usage - the descriptivists and the perscriptivists - as Mary Noris remarks in Between You and Me, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... we may as well be the democrats and the republicans. When it comes to standard written English - see David Foster Wallace on Authority and American Usage essay in Consider the Lobster - I am in the prescriptivist party. So I am predisposed to pan a descriptivist book and Shea's sneaky ways and filler fulled writing doesn't help his cause. He includes several examples supposed solecisms that even the most hard-core prescriptivist does not consider to be a grammatical mistake. Limb instead of Leg is the most glaring example of faux-solecism, but we've also accepted Hopefully to start a sentence and a preposition to end one. I would also have no problem with starting a sentence with And or But. But then he brings up real solecisms like between you and I, irregardless, literally instead of figuratively, and like as an intensifier. The first two exemplify over corrections by posers. I would add unnecessary serial commas, which Shea doesn't mention, to the over-corrections list. The second two solecisms - "like" and "literally" - scream nitwit. But since Shea throws in all these old hang ups, it makes the current solecisms seem silly and that in just a few years, we will accept them. Never. Shea introduces a solecism with an authoritative quote against it and then an authoritative author violating the supposed rule. The first word he chose, Hopefully, he quotes, "anyone who uses Hopefully to start sentence is an imbecile". Then he follows with "Hopefully, ...." by Ronald Reagan. At first I laughed because I thought he meant Reagan was an imbecile. Only later did I catch on to Shea's juxtaposition trap. I resented his gotcha with Nobokov when Nobokov was writing in the voice of a fictional character. While it's perfectly natural for a character to say finalize a divorce, that doesn't mean that using verb-nouns is acceptable or good practice. Shea flaunts a rule he should follow: cut unnecessary words. His explanations and narration was too long winded for me. There was a lot filler. Shea devotes a whole chapter on Shakespeare's poor English. Shakespeare didn't have a copy editor or even Strunk & White. Shakespeare did not write plays to be read but to be acted. Shea does not site Shakespeare's sonnets, only the iambic pentameter lines of his fictional characters. Babe Ruth ate, aphoristically, hot dogs and beer, does that suggest today's baseball players eat the same? Shea avoids the contention between Fewer and Less. I noticed that unlike other supermarkets, Whole Foods terms their express lines - 10 items or fewer. I could care less about utilitarian signage and everyday usage. Shea fails distinguish between standard written English and all other forms. Written English does not have the benefit of verbal inflections or body language. The basic rules of standard written English help readers read better. Shea does not disclose that language marks culture. If you want to fit in and be accepted by the group, then you need to speak the language of the group. SWE is it's own culture and the leaders and members of the culture are free to determine the rules. If you want success professionally or academically - just between you and I, you literally need to follow the rules of SWE irregardless of like whatever Shea says. And that is the best stated argument for being a prescriptivist.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kellie Reynolds

    The author discusses many word usage and grammatical errors that we love to pick on. (Such as ending a sentence with a preposition- ha ha). He points out the many changes in English over time. The historical aspect of the book is interesting. His bottom line seems to be- language should be clear and elegant, but there is no need to be uptight and nitpick the way others write. The specific topics include: 1. Semantics (shifting meaning of words). Examples include hopefully, literally, enormity, ag The author discusses many word usage and grammatical errors that we love to pick on. (Such as ending a sentence with a preposition- ha ha). He points out the many changes in English over time. The historical aspect of the book is interesting. His bottom line seems to be- language should be clear and elegant, but there is no need to be uptight and nitpick the way others write. The specific topics include: 1. Semantics (shifting meaning of words). Examples include hopefully, literally, enormity, aggravate, just to name a few. 2. Words that are not words. Examples: belittle, balding, stupider, irregardless. 3. Verbing nouns- many linguists believe verbed nouns are not acceptable. (Examples- impact, finalize, contact) 4. Sins of grammar. Examples- splitting infinitives, using "fun" as an adjective, that vs which (my pet peeve!), ending a sentence with a preposition. 5. Many different uses of the apostrophe. For the most part, the author recommends that we all chill out and stop pointing out "errors" in other people's writing. Most of the "errors" listed in 1-4, above, are actually acceptable. He does seem to agree with current conventions for apostrophes. For some reason, he is also ok with the excessive use of "like." And- text speak is not going to ruin the English language. (Note- it is acceptable to start a sentence with "And" or "But," so don't comment on my previous sentence. :) And another thing- emoticons are not new and they serve a purpose. There is fun section (yep, I used "fun" as an adjective) about Shakespeare and the many errors in his writing. There is an example of how a current editor would change Shakespeare's writing. Even more fun (now as a noun !), there is a list of 14 quotes from either Shakespeare or a modern hip hop artist. Distinguishing between the two is not easy!! One sample- "Let's beat him before his whore " is from Shakespeare. I enjoyed the book and I will now be more permissive when editing other people's writing. Be clear, be elegant, don't be an uptight butt!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauryn Smith du Toit

    Hopefully my review of Ammon Shea’s “Bad English” leaves no stone unturned, literally bemusing you because it ain’t boring irregardless of your interest in linguistics. Did anyone cringe at my deprived use of the English language in that opening sentence? Good. I intended that, and Shea was my inspiration. In his nonfiction book “Bad English,” Shea delineates the language's history, illustrating the worries, objections and complaints of grammarians throughout the ages. In doing so, he intentionall Hopefully my review of Ammon Shea’s “Bad English” leaves no stone unturned, literally bemusing you because it ain’t boring irregardless of your interest in linguistics. Did anyone cringe at my deprived use of the English language in that opening sentence? Good. I intended that, and Shea was my inspiration. In his nonfiction book “Bad English,” Shea delineates the language's history, illustrating the worries, objections and complaints of grammarians throughout the ages. In doing so, he intentionally commits linguistic crimes and provides examples of historic and contemporary linguistic "mistakes," ultimately concluding that English is a hot mess but in the best way possible. Shea subtly yet successfully argues against those who take a prescriptive approach to English. He demonstrates that it is not necessary to fight over language. Instead, he shows that language is alive, that it is an interesting subject for study, debate and conversation. According to Shea, there is no right or wrong way to use English as every rule has evidence of being broken. Within the text, Shea presents both sides of the story, citing supporters and detractors of various of English’s canons. ​To clarify his points, he picks individual words and grammatical tendencies and follows their histories, explaining arguments and counterarguments surrounding their usage. He covers some expected terms, such as “hopefully,” “literally” and “irregardless,” but also less common ones, such as “very,” “donate” and “belittle.” Overall, "Bad English" is a well written, enlightening read. The only qualm I have with the book concerns the list of 221 words that were once “frowned upon,” which Shea includes as its final chapter. Shea quotes people’s arguments against each word, and the tedium of reading the list is exhausting. After witnessing how interesting... Visit Book Nook Reviews to read my full review of Ammon Shea's "Bad English." Happy reading! http://booknookrevs.com/nook/review-b...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Berg

    Ah, I do so love a book about words, and word uses. Now, if only some fool person hadn't "corrected" the copy of this I checked out from the library. I mean really, I get that you are reading the book to learn about words, but the corrections the person made weren't even correct! Gallic is must definitely different from Gaelic, and don't get me started on the commas added in! But that is neither here nor there, as it has nothing to do with the actual content of the book. I have to admit, I did lik Ah, I do so love a book about words, and word uses. Now, if only some fool person hadn't "corrected" the copy of this I checked out from the library. I mean really, I get that you are reading the book to learn about words, but the corrections the person made weren't even correct! Gallic is must definitely different from Gaelic, and don't get me started on the commas added in! But that is neither here nor there, as it has nothing to do with the actual content of the book. I have to admit, I did like reading about all the "rules" since I break so many of them in my own writing. However, as delightful parts of the book were, it was more like a taste, rather than drinking from a deep well of knowledge. It flitted from topic to topic, staying just long enough to make you want more information. The endnotes helped, but I wouldn't have minded a longer book if it meant going even more in-depth. The section on inkhorns was fun (especially since I had just been studying them for a game I made). That said, there could have been more written about ghost words. They were touched on briefly (though not by name) with the history of cocoa from cacao as that is a ghost word which became real, so to speak. But they are fascinating enough to have merited more attention - given that there are a number of words which entered the English language through misspellings, (and some which were quickly removed when discovered)! Likewise, I would have loved a sections on sniglets - those words which were created because someone thought they were needed (such as chortle) which again, were touched on briefly, though not by name. Of course, at this point I've talked more about what isn't in the book than what is... but I'm verbose by nature, and doubly so when talking about words. Without a doubt this is a good book to read, if only so that you can fling counter-rules back at people when they tell you to never start a sentence with "And" or end a sentence with a preposition.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Janet Gardner

    I'm endlessly fascinated by the English language and its history, so this was a good read for me. It's not a how-to book on grammar and usage, but rather an exploration of where the rules--or perhaps I should say "rules"--of English come from and how they have changed over the centuries. Did you know it was once considered hopelessly vulgar to use the word lunch as a noun? Or that Shakespeare was roundly condemned in the eighteenth century for ending sentences in prepositions, even though the ru I'm endlessly fascinated by the English language and its history, so this was a good read for me. It's not a how-to book on grammar and usage, but rather an exploration of where the rules--or perhaps I should say "rules"--of English come from and how they have changed over the centuries. Did you know it was once considered hopelessly vulgar to use the word lunch as a noun? Or that Shakespeare was roundly condemned in the eighteenth century for ending sentences in prepositions, even though the rule against doing so was not formulated until many years after the Bard's death? Shea's permissiveness is bound to chafe some readers: heck, he lets Dan Quayle off the hook (sort of) for his spelling of "potatoe" and refuses even to condemn the dreaded irregardless. (He declares the "ir" prefix both "utterly unnecessary" and a "tumor-like growth," but in the end he considers the tumor benign, at least when compared to the far more grave disease of being a language scold.) But he does a marvelous job of informing readers about the origins of various linguistic prejudices and prescriptions and how they have developed. My only complaint (and it's minor) was with the author's own prose and the editing of the book, which seemed just a tiny bit sloppy to me, especially when compared with Shea's Reading the OED, which was crisp and elegant and simply delicious. I'm untroubled by his split infinitives or sentences ending in prepositions, but occasional passages were a bit wordy and inelegant, and I stumbled over more than a couple of simple misprints ("sue" for "use" and the like). Such things are common, of course, but I have higher than usual expectations from a book on language.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pame

    Okay, so I picked this book because English, any language, isn't my strong suit. Dyslexia. Even writing this review, which is why I don't write many reviews, I have to use spell check and re-read, have software that aids me in this, so what I wrote to see if it makes sense. It's more of a chore than it is usually worth. This book is worth that chore. I "read" the audiobook, it's not possible for me to read audio, so I listened to it. Now, I thought this book is going to make me feel stupid and inad Okay, so I picked this book because English, any language, isn't my strong suit. Dyslexia. Even writing this review, which is why I don't write many reviews, I have to use spell check and re-read, have software that aids me in this, so what I wrote to see if it makes sense. It's more of a chore than it is usually worth. This book is worth that chore. I "read" the audiobook, it's not possible for me to read audio, so I listened to it. Now, I thought this book is going to make me feel stupid and inadequate. It did, however not in the way I thought it would. This is a good thing. Personally, I know most of the English errors in this book, where grammatical errors. I just didn't know the why, or reasons for them being considered as such. Spelling, reading, writing, letters, numbers, and grammar, will never be my strong points. Still, I know multiple languages and can read with great difficulty. This is why these book's rules were not as surprising to me. English is not my first language. Knowing multiple languages, regardless if I can read them and etc, has thought me a few things. There are rules, and languages mix, morph and cross over. I know my English isn't perfect, but I didn't realize just how many fallacies I was making. I think this book was more enjoyable that, in some ways, this book shows that my English, though I still struggle writing and reading, is better than the 'native' speakers of the language. This book is very informative and useful. I say the only bad thing that I can criticize about this book, audiobook, is that I had to replay chapter 7 twice, to fully grasp the citations.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    Bad English is a surprisingly interesting read despite the subject matter and at times humorous as well. I admit to being a bit of a stickler when it comes to some aspects of grammar and usage, such as specific things bothering me. A number of the things included in the book are hard on my ears, such as hearing "funner," "ain't," "literally," "stupider," and other such words. Apparently I am a big fan of putting "more" in front of a word rather than adding "-er". But the majority of words did no Bad English is a surprisingly interesting read despite the subject matter and at times humorous as well. I admit to being a bit of a stickler when it comes to some aspects of grammar and usage, such as specific things bothering me. A number of the things included in the book are hard on my ears, such as hearing "funner," "ain't," "literally," "stupider," and other such words. Apparently I am a big fan of putting "more" in front of a word rather than adding "-er". But the majority of words did not bother me and I was baffled as to why grammarians were freaking out about them (many still today). I enjoyed that the author showed errors by and arguments against Shakespeare (though I don't think the author dislikes him). I've always found Shakespeare to be too convoluted and complicated for little purpose, resulting in tedious and dull reading. But hey, that's me. The author chose to use in copious amounts a number of words, such as proscription, imbroglio, splenetic, barbarous, and shibboleth. You tend to notice the overuse of words as these and the author seems to favor them more than their synonyms. He likes dictionaries but thesauruses? Not so much. I also felt as though Shea was often simply putting in quotes from various publications just to essentially shove it in a linguistic snob's face. It became annoying to read example after example of this or that author using something they complained about in their very own writings. Overall an interesting read that puts the evolution of the English language in perspective.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie_blu

    It was quite interesting to see how grammar and usage have changed over the centuries. A word or its use may have been acceptable hundreds of years ago, and then have become unacceptable with the passage of time. In addition, the acceptability of some words has changed numerous times. Shea makes a substantial case that English is a vibrant language that is constantly adding new words, rediscovering old words, and finding new ways to communicate (email, texting, etc.). This adaptability is its st It was quite interesting to see how grammar and usage have changed over the centuries. A word or its use may have been acceptable hundreds of years ago, and then have become unacceptable with the passage of time. In addition, the acceptability of some words has changed numerous times. Shea makes a substantial case that English is a vibrant language that is constantly adding new words, rediscovering old words, and finding new ways to communicate (email, texting, etc.). This adaptability is its strength. However, I think Shea is mistaken in one important area. He implies that any concern with proper grammar and usage is short sighted and the province of those who wish to feel superior to others. I disagree. Yes, grammar and usage have changed drastically over the centuries, however each time period since the 1700s has had some standards. While strict adherence to English rules is not necessary for effective communication, some rules are necessary in every language for its speakers to be able to communicate without confusion. Also, even though I believe France (and other countries), with its governmental organization to "protect" its language, is actually hindering the viability of the language, I think it is absurd to imply that since rules are transitory, they are unnecessary. Humans, being highly social beings, require rules in order to function as a community, and this includes language.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    This is one of those books that someone gave me and it took up residence in my book pile for quite some time. I wish I had picked it up sooner. Shea's book does not seek to solve any grammatical conundrums; instead he traces the historical origins of the discrepancies and offers fair-minded research in favor of both sides (such as ending a sentence with a preposition, or the modern usages of LOL, OMG and :)) I found this book at times laugh-out-loud funny, which is to me always a welcome diversi This is one of those books that someone gave me and it took up residence in my book pile for quite some time. I wish I had picked it up sooner. Shea's book does not seek to solve any grammatical conundrums; instead he traces the historical origins of the discrepancies and offers fair-minded research in favor of both sides (such as ending a sentence with a preposition, or the modern usages of LOL, OMG and :)) I found this book at times laugh-out-loud funny, which is to me always a welcome diversion in a world where egocentric no talents grow continually richer and egocentric loudmouths amass more political power. Chuckling at grammatical gewgaws and knickknacks is not for everyone, I 'm sure, and the fact that it's a book on grammar and usage does make it a little bit dry at times, but reading this book in bed send me off to sleep both drowsy and satisfied. To wit, "the be- prefix offers some fine opportunities for people who liked to be irked about language...."bestench" is defined as "to afflict with stench"; "bemissionary" is "to pester with missionaries"....you could use an imaginary word such as "beverb" to denote the act of "pestering or afflicting with verbs." (I don't know, I thought it was hilarious.)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    From the same guy who read the entire OED and then read the phone book, this book was not what I expected. Instead of criticizing abusers of the English language, he more often criticizes the criticizers. Fighting semantic drift isn't worth it to my mind or Shea's. See the word "aggravation," which could mean "to make a problem worse" or the informal definition "to exasperate," in the title above. I think both interpretations were intended, since this book has examples from several centuries of From the same guy who read the entire OED and then read the phone book, this book was not what I expected. Instead of criticizing abusers of the English language, he more often criticizes the criticizers. Fighting semantic drift isn't worth it to my mind or Shea's. See the word "aggravation," which could mean "to make a problem worse" or the informal definition "to exasperate," in the title above. I think both interpretations were intended, since this book has examples from several centuries of writers complaining that English is breaking down because everyone is making the same "mistake" that is later adopted into the language, of course. For every grammar rule you can't get straight, the chances are good that whatever seems natural is fine. Want to split an infinitive or end a sentence on a preposition? Go ahead. Don't be the person who "corrects" the grammar of others in conversation.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brian Beatty

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, primarily for the movie informed rebellious nature of it. By providing a detailed account of the history of preferences for grammar and word usage, Shea provides a heaped big dose of reality l check to the otherwise authoritative approach of grammarians. Principally, the problem lies in assertions that there is only one correct way, or that the right way is the original way, to do things. Clearly that is false, as rules and words change all the time. As a scientis I thoroughly enjoyed this book, primarily for the movie informed rebellious nature of it. By providing a detailed account of the history of preferences for grammar and word usage, Shea provides a heaped big dose of reality l check to the otherwise authoritative approach of grammarians. Principally, the problem lies in assertions that there is only one correct way, or that the right way is the original way, to do things. Clearly that is false, as rules and words change all the time. As a scientist, I am very fond of the sense of ambiguity and open mindedness this encourages, and revel in the disdain for authority that relies to little on empirical evidence for support. As an anatomist, where terminology is especially dicey, I find this to be an intriguing way to approach language that reinforces my attitude about he functional role of language taking priority over the historical or proper form.

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