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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling » User review

A history of spelling. Really.

  • Aug 29, 2008
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Wolman writes with passion about the history of the English language, the effects of printing and even of particular printers, of the quest for dictionaries, and about spelling reform movements. Those who are interested in history will enjoy it, and the idea of traveling to see significant locales in the history of spelling, as Wolman did, is an intriguing one. If you've wondered whatever possessed anyone to write "ghost" and why traveler and traveller seem equally likely, this is the book that will reveal all for you.
There were surprising stories about the quirky people who have tried to control spelling, and the political consequences of their attempts. There is even a section with some firm data and sensible speculation about the effects on English spelling of Google and texting, topics that are often discussed with little foundation.
Alongside the history of spelling, there is also the story of Wolman's personal quest for better spelling, or at least for an excuse for his poor spelling. I couldn't relate to his bitterness and frustration on this topic, but he certainly made his feelings clear, even if I couldn't share them. Just not that emotional about spelling, I guess.
But many people are, and they will probably be able to join Wolman on his roller coaster of emotions. The rest of us can enjoy this different perspective on the history of the English-speaking world.

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More Righting the Mother Tongue: Fr... reviews
review by . December 23, 2008
Interesting insights into why and how we spell continues my recent thread on English (and specifically American) language    The American Language-4th Editin  Websterisms: A Collection of Words and Definitions Set Forth by the Founding Father of American English    Wolman takes off from a position of a spelling-challenged student to tour the roots of English orthography (the study of spelling) in this light extended magazine piece. He starts at several …
review by . August 05, 2008
I really enjoy reading books that not only inform me, but entertain me as well. This book is one of that type. It contains a brief history of how the English language came to be the oddball collection of spelling that we know today. Also, it chronicles the many efforts through the centuries to "simplify" the spelling, or at least make it consistent. The conclusion is that it can't really be done, but the author believes that the generation growing up with e-mail and text messaging may have some …
review by . August 01, 2008
This small book (I read it in a few hours) is a personal and sometimes funny look at, as Bill Bryson put it, "English and how it got that way." It's a decent survey of the history and some of the issues involved in English orthography, and if not exactly full of original insights, pulls together bits of linguistics, neurological science, theories of child development, and the history of dictionaries, printing, and publishing into one package that's unlike anything else I've come across in the field. …
review by . July 29, 2008
The Inglish langwage iz a mes. Anywun who has tryed to lern to spel it nos this. This buk provides a solid analisis of how this situashun came to be. Yew will reed all abowt the histori that got us into the mes we are in now.    And that's enough of that!    Anyhow, this is a pretty good read! You'll get quite a lot of the history and literature in the English language that got us into the sorry state of spelling we're in now, as well as look as the present …
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Rebecca Haden ()
Ranked #392
I'm a full time web content writer, working for companies and organizations from a goat farm in Oklahoma to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. My specialty is writing for both search engines and … more
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About this book

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“An engaging ramble through our orthographic thickets” (Boston Globe )

“Sprightly history that sensibly balances the merits of standardization against the forces for freedom.” (Kirkus Reviews )

The lively, informative book is full of evidence/cocktail party fodder proving that the English spelling system is a hopeless tangle of French, Dutch, Latin, German and much, much more and really makes no sense at all. (Portland Tribune )

A lively, engaging look at the idiosyncratic derivations and permutations of spelling in the English language. (Seattle Post Intelligencer )

An intellectual travelogue across the centuries that also ranges geographically from the Litchfield haunts of Dr. Johnson, creator of the first great English dictionary, to the Silicon Valley home of Les Earnest, the progenitor of computerized spell-checking. (Wall Street Journal )

“A funny and fact-filled look at our astoundingly inconsistent written language, from Shakespeare to spell-check.” (St. Petersburg Times )
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Details

ISBN-10: 006136925X
ISBN-13: 978-0061369254
Author: David Wolman
Publisher: Smithsonian

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