The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins


Anne Curzan - 2012
    Discover the secrets behind the words in our everyday lexicon with this delightful, informative survey of English, from its Germanic origins to the rise of globalization and cyber-communications. Professor Curzan approaches words like an archaeologist, digging below the surface to uncover the story of words, from the humble "she" to such SAT words as "conflagration" and "pedimanous." In these 36 fascinating lectures, you'll discover the history of the dictionary and how words make it into a reference book like the Oxford English Dictionary; survey the borrowed words that make up the English lexicon; find out how words are born and how they die; expand your vocabulary by studying Greek and Latin "word webs"; and revel in new terms, such as "musquirt," "adorkable," and "struggle bus." English is an omnivorous language and has borrowed heavily from the many languages it has come into contact with, from Celtic and Old Norse in the Middle Ages to the dozens of world languages in the truly global 20th and 21st centuries. You'll be surprised to learn that the impulse to conserve "pure English" is nothing new. In fact, if English purists during the Renaissance had their way, we would now be using Old English compounds such as "flesh-strings" for "muscles" and "bone-lock" for "joint." You may not come away using terms like "whatevs" or "multislacking" in casual conversation, but you'll love studying the linguistic system that gives us such irreverent - and fun - slang, from "boy toy" to "cankles."

The Madman's Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History


Edward Brooke-Hitching - 2020
    The Madman's Library delves into its darkest territories to hunt down the oddest books and manuscripts ever written, uncovering the intriguing stories behind their creation.From the Qur'an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein, to the gorgeously decorated fifteenth-century lawsuit filed by the Devil against Jesus, to the most enormous book ever created, The Madman's Library features many long forgotten, eccentric, and extraordinary volumes gathered from around the world.Books written in blood and books that kill, books of the insane and books that hoaxed the globe, books invisible to the naked eye and books so long they could destroy the Universe, books worn into battle and books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered. Spell books, alchemist scrolls, wearable books, edible books, books to summon demons, books written by ghosts, and more all come together in the most curiously strange library imaginable.Featuring hundreds of remarkable images and packed with entertaining facts and stories to discover, The Madman's Library is a captivating compendium perfect for bibliophiles, literature enthusiasts, and collectors intrigued by bizarre oddities, obscure history, and the macabre.• MUST-HAVE FOR BOOKLOVERS: Anyone who appreciates a good read will love delving into this weird world of books and adding this collection to their own bookshelf.• DISCOVER SOMETHING TRULY UNIQUE: The Madman's Library will let you in on the secret and obscure histories of the strangest books ever made.• EXPERT AUTHOR: Edward Brooke-Hitching is the son of an antiquarian book dealer, a lifelong rare book collector, and a master of taking visual deep dives into unusual historical subjects, such as the maps of imaginary geography in The Phantom Atlas or ancient pathways through the stars in The Sky Atlas.

The Untold Story of the Talking Book


Matthew Rubery - 2016
    Left out of that familiar account is nearly 150 years of audio recordings. Recounting the fascinating history of audio-recorded literature, Matthew Rubery traces the path of innovation from Edison's recitation of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for his tinfoil phonograph in 1877, to the first novel-length talking books made for blinded World War I veterans, to today's billion-dollar audiobook industry.The Untold Story of the Talking Book focuses on the social impact of audiobooks, not just the technological history, in telling a story of surprising and impassioned conflicts: from controversies over which books the Library of Congress selected to become talking books―yes to Kipling, no to Flaubert―to debates about what defines a reader. Delving into the vexed relationship between spoken and printed texts, Rubery argues that storytelling can be just as engaging with the ears as with the eyes, and that audiobooks deserve to be taken seriously. They are not mere derivatives of printed books but their own form of entertainment.We have come a long way from the era of sound recorded on wax cylinders, when people imagined one day hearing entire novels on mini-phonographs tucked inside their hats. Rubery tells the untold story of this incredible evolution and, in doing so, breaks from convention by treating audiobooks as a distinctively modern art form that has profoundly influenced the way we read.

A History of the English Language


Michael D.C. Drout - 2007
    The components of language are explained in easy-to-understand terms and the progression of the language from Germanic to Old, Middle, and Modern English is fully illustrated—including such revolutionary language upheavals as those brought about by the Norman Conquest and the Great Vowel Shift. One of the most interesting aspects of the English language lies in its variants, such as the “soda” vs. “pop” debate and the place of African-American English in modern culture. These and other dialectual curiosities are looked at in detail and placed in the context of today’s world. Finally, Professor Drout examines the future not only of the English language, but of all the world’s languages.

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary


Simon Winchester - 2003
    Writing with marvelous brio, Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language--"so vast, so sprawling, so wonderfully unwieldy"--and pays homage to the great dictionary makers, from "the irredeemably famous" Samuel Johnson to the "short, pale, smug and boastful" schoolmaster from New Hartford, Noah Webster. He then turns his unmatched talent for story-telling to the making of this most venerable of dictionaries. In this fast-paced narrative, the reader will discover lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but tubercular first editor Herbert Coleridge (grandson of the poet), the colorful, boisterous Frederick Furnivall (who left the project in a shambles), and James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent a half-century bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the nuts-and-bolts of dictionary making--how unexpectedly tricky the dictionary entry for marzipan was, or how fraternity turned out so much longer and monkey so much more ancient than anticipated--and how bondmaid was left out completely, its slips found lurking under a pile of books long after the B-volume had gone to press. We visit the ugly corrugated iron structure that Murray grandly dubbed the Scriptorium--the Scrippy or the Shed, as locals called it--and meet some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to W.C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption. The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument ever erected to a living language. Simon Winchester's supple, vigorous prose illuminates this dauntingly ambitious project--a seventy-year odyssey to create the grandfather of all word-books, the world's unrivalled uber-dictionary.

Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing


Melissa Mohr - 2013
    With humor and insight, Melissa Mohr takes readers on a journey to discover how "swearing" has come to include both testifying with your hand on the Bible and calling someone a *#$&!* when they cut you off on the highway. She explores obscenities in ancient Rome and unearths the history of religious oaths in the Middle Ages, when swearing (or not swearing) an oath was often a matter of life and death. Holy Sh*t also explains the advancement of civility and corresponding censorship of language in the 18th century, considers the rise of racial slurs after World War II, examines the physiological effects of swearing and answers a question that preoccupies the FCC, the US Senate, and anyone who has recently overheard little kids at a playground: are we swearing more now than people did in the past?A gem of lexicography and cultural history, Holy Sh*t is a serious exploration of obscenity.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading


Leah Price - 2019
    Digital-age pundits warn that as our appetite for books dwindles, so too do the virtues in which printed, bound objects once trained us: the willpower to focus on a sustained argument, the curiosity to look beyond the day's news, the willingness to be alone.The shelves of the world's great libraries, though, tell a more complicated story. Examining the wear and tear on the books that they contain, English professor Leah Price finds scant evidence that a golden age of reading ever existed. From the dawn of mass literacy to the invention of the paperback, most readers already skimmed and multitasked. Print-era doctors even forbade the very same silent absorption now recommended as a cure for electronic addictions.The evidence that books are dying proves even scarcer. In encounters with librarians, booksellers and activists who are reinventing old ways of reading, Price offers fresh hope to bibliophiles and literature lovers alike.

Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark


Cecelia Watson - 2019
    Stephen King, Hemingway, Vonnegut, and Orwell detest it. Herman Melville, Henry James, and Rebecca Solnit love it. But why? When is it effective? Have we been misusing it? Should we even care?In Semicolon, Cecelia Watson charts the rise and fall of this infamous punctuation mark, which for years was the trendiest one in the world of letters. But in the nineteenth century, as grammar books became all the rage, the rules of how we use language became both stricter and more confusing, with the semicolon a prime victim. Taking us on a breezy journey through a range of examples—from Milton’s manuscripts to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail” to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep—Watson reveals how traditional grammar rules make us less successful at communicating with each other than we’d think. Even the most die-hard grammar fanatics would be better served by tossing the rule books and learning a better way to engage with language.Through her rollicking biography of the semicolon, Watson writes a guide to grammar that explains why we don’t need guides at all, and refocuses our attention on the deepest, most primary value of language: true communication.

The History of the English Language (The Great Courses, 2250)


Seth Lerer - 2000
    36 lectures on 18 CDs (two 30 minute lectures per CD). In three parts, each in its own clamshell case. One course guidebook per part.

Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations


Kenneth W. Harl - 2005
    lecture 1. Cradles of civilization ; lecture 2. First cities of Sumer --disc 2. lecture 3. Mesopotamian kings and scribes ; lecture 4. Hammurabi's Babylon --disc 3. lecture 5. Egypt in the pyramid age ; lecture 6. The Middle Kingdom --disc 4. lecture 7. Imperial Egypt ; lecture 8. New peoples of the Bronze Age --disc 5. lecture 9. The collapse of the Bronze Age ; lecture 10. From Hebrews to Jews --disc 6. lecture 11. Imperial Assyria ; lecture 12. The Persian Empire.

The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park


Jack Lynch - 2009
    The Lexicographer’s Dilemma offers the first narrative history of these endeavors, showing clearly that what we now regard as the only “correct” way to speak emerged out of specific historical and social conditions over the course of centuries.As literary historian Jack Lynch has discovered, every rule has a human history, and the characters peopling his narrative are as interesting for their obsession as for their erudition. The struggle between prescriptivists, who prescribe a correct approach, and descriptivists, who analyze how language works, is at the heart of Lynch’s story. From the sharp-tongued satirist Jonathan Swift, who called for a governmentsponsored academy to issue rulings on the language, and the polymath Samuel Johnson, who put dictionaries on a new footing, to John Horne Tooke, the crackpot linguist whose bizarre theories continue to baffle scholars; Joseph Priestley, whose political radicalism prompted riots; and the ever-crotchety Noah Webster, whose goal was to Americanize the English language—Lynch brings to life a varied cast as illuminating as it is entertaining.Grammatical “rules” or “laws” are not like the law of gravity, or laws against theft or murder—they’re more like rules of etiquette, made by fallible people and subject to change. Charting the evolution of English, Jack Lynch puts today’s debates—whether about Ebonics in the schools or split infinitives in the New York Times—in a rich historical context, and makes us appreciate anew the hard-won standards we now enjoy.

The Language Wars: A History of Proper English


Henry Hitchings - 2011
    Since the age of Shakespeare, arguments over correct usage have been bitter, and have always really been about contesting values—morality, politics, and class. The Language Wars examines the present state of the conflict, its history, and its future. Above all, it uses the past as a way of illuminating the present. Moving chronologically, the book explores the most persis­tent issues to do with English and unpacks the history of “proper†us­age. Where did these ideas spring from? Who has been on the front lines in the language wars?The Language Wars examines grammar rules, regional accents, swearing, spelling, dictionaries, political correctness, and the role of electronic media in reshaping language. It also takes a look at such de­tails as the split infinitive, elocution, and text messaging. Peopled with intriguing characters such as Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Lenny Bruce, The Language Wars is an essential volume for anyone interested in the state of the English language today or its future.

Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation


Ammon Shea - 2014
    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.

The Decline and Fall of Rome


Thomas F. Madden - 2008
    What caused a civilization of such accomplishments to disintegrate? In this informative and lively series of lectures, renowned history professor Thomas F. Madden serves as the ultimate guide through the fall of ancient Rome. Professor Madden correlates the principles of Roman conduct— both governmental and military—that would forever change the world. Rome was an empire unlike the world had ever seen, and one that will likely never be duplicated. Peopled with personages of great distinction and even greater ambition, at once notable for humanity’s great promise and flawed nature, the Roman Empire contributed many of history’s proudest advancements. Here Professor Madden invites audiences to explore all the grandeur of this fallen empire. Lecture 1 The Decline and Fall of What?Lecture 2 The Sick RepublicLecture 3 The Augustan RevolutionLecture 4 The Julio-Claudian EmperorsLecture 5 Instability and WarLecture 6 Order Restored: The Five Good Emperors, 96–180Lecture 7 Military DictatorshipLecture 8 The Spreading Anarchy, 235–284Lecture 9 Diocletian and the Reform of EmpireLecture 10 Constantine and the Conversion of EmpireLecture 11 The New Threat of HeresyLecture 12 Theodosius and His SuccessorsLecture 13 The Fall of RomeLecture 14 Rome After Rome

Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use


Bill Brohaugh - 2006
    'Unfortunate English' contains humorous and accessible etymology for words with grisly backgrounds.