Tuesday, February 25, 2014


So we're back to below freezing after several days above it. A lot less snow but still a few feet in the front yard of this old house my apartment is in. My back, pulled from shoveling, is much better, but I'm still resting it as much as possible, which means continuing to catch up on my reading.

Two books given me by friends I've managed to finish are Garry Wills' Pulitzer Prize winning LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURG The Words That Remade America, and John McWhorter's OUR MAGNIFICENT BASTARD TONGUE The Untold History of English. Both all about words and the ways they're used.

Wills' analysis of The Gettysburg Address includes not just the history of speeches from the Greeks to 19th-Century America, but the history of battlefield cemeteries, Lincoln's speech-writing history and so much more. Too detailed, perhaps, for the casual reader, but a cornucopia of interesting information all supporting the reasons why Lincoln's speech was so seminal.

McWhorter's analysis of how English owes a lot more to the Celts and the Vikings than normally attributed to them is equally detailed, but his approach is a little more smart ass, especially for a linguist and scholar. Part of his theme is that the so-called rules of good English grammar are arbitrary and come from a time when people (well, old white men) were determined to freeze an always changing language into something they could control.

He makes it clear that when people like me write things like, "Billy and me kept going" instead of "Billy and I" or use "who" instead of "whom" or "they" for a singular person, we're not "wrong," but in fact just reflecting the way many of us actually speak. Something, of course, others have contended but never with such panache and authority.

Both books were a blast for me, but I only recommend them to those who enjoy reading intelligent arguments for an interesting author's perspective on things most people don't think about, or care about, that much. But if you're interested in linguistics and well as in-depth history, you might enjoy them.


Phoebe said...

If you are still housebound - check out The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It is a great book - Lewis recommended it to me with I was housebound! Phoebe

Lally said...

almost back to normal, thank God...Donna Tartt went to college with my older kids... though they weren't close friends, but I've followed her career as a result...and have GOLDFINCH on my list...