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

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Bill Bryson

Readers from Toad Suck, Arkansas, to Idiotsville, Oregon--and everywhere in between--will loveMade in America, Bill Bryson'sInformal History of the English Language in the United States.It is, in a word, fascinating. After reading this tour de force, … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Bill Bryson
Publisher: William Morrow & Co
1 review about Made in America: An Informal History of...

Anecdotal history of America and its English

  • May 12, 2011
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 fun to read.  Perhaps the most interesting tidbit (an Americanism that was originally "titbit" but changed because of its possibly prurient double entendre) he relays is that one of H. L. Mencken's sources when writing his earlier American English classic was--Bill Bryson, the author's son!   

Bryson starts by taking a chronological approach to the Americanization of mother English, and one drawback is that early on he must devote more time to historical context than to linguistic content.  The positive side of that approach is that even though he isn't able to be exhaustive because of the time given over to context, the words that he is able to hightlight are well-placed in historical context.   And of course, the account is accordingly more readable to the casual reader, while still retaining the bibiliography and index of words needed for further research and reference (unlike the book I just reviewed, You All Spoken Here).

After following the historical approach into the 19th century, Bryson then switches to a topical approach, covering topics like eating, sports and leisure, politics, shopping, manners, technology, and, of course sex, where we learned about titbit (and other casualties of the overly cautious).  Throughout, the context provided keeps the learning centered and the reading light. 

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