Friday, October 11, 2013

3 4 Friday - Carousing our Curiously Quirky Mother Tongue

Any day of the week, every day of the year, you can find something to celebrate. For example, yesterday was World Porridge Day. Next Tuesday is National Ada Lovelace Day. Next Friday is Chocolate Cupcake Day (apparently). See, something for everyone.

But this Sunday is ‘International English Language Day’ – so for today’s 3 4 Friday #fridayreads, we’re carousing our curiously quirky mother tongue, with three newly-published books about a language spoken by two billion people...


Wordsmiths & Warriors’ by David and Hilary Crystal, is a fabulously unique tourist's guide to the evolution of the English language in Britain. Illustrated in colour throughout, it explores the heritage of English through the places in Britain that shaped it. It unites the warriors, whose invasions transformed the language, with the poets, scholars, reformers, and many others who have helped create its character over the years. David was the author of ‘Spell It Out’ and ‘The Story of English in 100 Words’ and comes closer to possibly anyone else currently writing as an official ‘biographer’ of the English language.


For four decades, David Marsh has worked for newspapers, turning rough-and-ready reportage into the ready-to-print word. He is familiar with everything from sloppy syntax to a fundamental understanding of what (bad) grammar is. But ‘For Who The Bell Tolls’ is no call to enforce rigid rules. Rules, he argues, can get in the way of fluent, unambiguous communication at the expense of ones that are actually useful. Instead he has put together, in this readable and easy-to-understand guide, the rules he thinks help - and those he thinks we can do without. Don’t think ’grammar police’, instead think ‘grammar community support officer’...

As you would expect, the book is a joy to read, but it’s also a call for clear, honest use of English, which has many enemies: politicians, marketing people, local authorities, estate agents...and some journalists come under scrutiny, but hopefully everyone comes out the other side with better understanding! A book for anyone who loved 'Eats Shoots and Leaves'...

(And, just in case you feel like writing a strongly-worded complaint, that title is correct. Google insists it isn't though if you try to search on it...) 


Finally, if you feel English has become a bit of a minefield, you may enjoy Sandi Toksvig's tips on all sort of pitfalls to avoid with her updated book of modern manners. In her book ‘Peas & Queues’ she explains that, how to behave, like how to punctuate, is an aspect of life that many are no longer taught - and getting it wrong is the stuff of comedy at best and humiliation at worst.

Thankfully, Sandi has come to the rescue with her entertaining guide to modern manners, with tips on what to do whether you're talking to a bore, or forgot their name in the first place.

So – three books on the English language to celebrate and learn how to speak proper. After all, as Churchill himself is supposed to have said, “this is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put”...

P.S. Who is Ada Lovelace? We can wholeheartedly recommend this book! And World Porridge Day has an extremely serious message about poverty and hunger.

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