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Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We… (2003)

by John McWhorter

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299364,461 (3.39)5
In Doing Our Own Thing, critically acclaimed linguist and cultural critic John McWhorter traces the precipitous decline of language in contemporary America, arguing persuasively that casual, everyday speech has conquered the formal in all arenas, from oratory to poetry to everyday journalism—and has even had dire consequences for our musical culture. McWhorter argues that the swift and startling change in written and oral communication emanated from the countercultural revolution of the 1960s and its ideology that established forms and formality were autocratic and artificial. While acknowledging that the evolution of language is in and of itself inevitable and often benign, he warns that the near-total loss of formal expression in America is unprecedented in modern history, and has reached a crisis point in our culture in which our very ability to convey ideas and arguments effectively is gravely threatened.By turns compelling and harrowing, passionate and judicious, Doing Our Own Thingis required reading for all concerned about the state of our language—and the future of intellectual life in America. BACKCOVER: “Illustrated with an entertaining array of examples from both high and low culture, the trend that Mr. McWhorter documents is unmistakable.” —The Economist “Provocative, funny. . . McWhorter suggests that prose ought to be something ‘we decorateout of a basic sense of exuberance of living.’” —Andrea Behr, San Francisco Chronicle “An entertaining and provocative analysis of the way we use language, while also suggesting that we should love it.” —Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News “McWhorter is a gifted young linguist who seeks to understand the change in our verbal habits rather than just bemoan it, and his analysis is insightful, richly documented and, yes, eloquently written.” —Steven Pinker, author of The BlankSlate and The Language Instinct… (more)

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Showing 3 of 3
I read this book after reading The Power of Babel, (which I think is axcellent), expecting a similar argument enlivened by careful observation and reasoning. What a disappointment! The thesis here is the decline of the west as shown in written language, popular music, and a host of other "trends". Besides showing his personal tastes, McWhorter claims to know the reason for this general decline: the 60s!
No careful weighting of evidence, no room for opposing views this book feels like a rant against the people that dared to challenge the given truth and therefore, in additin to be expelled from Eden, they took all of us with them.
McWhorter is a fine writer and some of his observations are worth pondering. But as a logical argument this book is a mess... ( )
1 vote vonChillan | Jan 12, 2014 |
This is a fun read. McWhorter's digressions on pop culture and literature are great. That said, the book as a whole doesn't hold together very well. The central argument is too simple and some of the examples given are unconvincing.

What's more, McWhorter is too honestly conflicted about his thesis to really drive the point home. Despite the abrasive title, he loves "low" culture for what it is and he studies it with the impartiality of a linguist. A more narrow-minded author might have written a more satisfying polemic. ( )
1 vote rachelgatwood | Aug 9, 2013 |
An extended rumination on the loss of formality in American English, Doing Our Own Thing is enjoyable and thought-provoking, if a bit repetitive. McWhorter's own voice is singular; I liked it, but his asides and wordplay may not be for everyone. ( )
1 vote mrtall | Jun 4, 2007 |
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I dedicate this book to that cheery, weary town, New York City
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I am first putting pen to paper—or, really, finger to keyboard—for this book on September 10, 2002, in New York City.
Some years ago, an undergraduate student in a course I was teaching gave me a tape she had made of an elderly black woman reciting a folktale.
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In Doing Our Own Thing, critically acclaimed linguist and cultural critic John McWhorter traces the precipitous decline of language in contemporary America, arguing persuasively that casual, everyday speech has conquered the formal in all arenas, from oratory to poetry to everyday journalism—and has even had dire consequences for our musical culture. McWhorter argues that the swift and startling change in written and oral communication emanated from the countercultural revolution of the 1960s and its ideology that established forms and formality were autocratic and artificial. While acknowledging that the evolution of language is in and of itself inevitable and often benign, he warns that the near-total loss of formal expression in America is unprecedented in modern history, and has reached a crisis point in our culture in which our very ability to convey ideas and arguments effectively is gravely threatened.By turns compelling and harrowing, passionate and judicious, Doing Our Own Thingis required reading for all concerned about the state of our language—and the future of intellectual life in America. BACKCOVER: “Illustrated with an entertaining array of examples from both high and low culture, the trend that Mr. McWhorter documents is unmistakable.” —The Economist “Provocative, funny. . . McWhorter suggests that prose ought to be something ‘we decorateout of a basic sense of exuberance of living.’” —Andrea Behr, San Francisco Chronicle “An entertaining and provocative analysis of the way we use language, while also suggesting that we should love it.” —Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News “McWhorter is a gifted young linguist who seeks to understand the change in our verbal habits rather than just bemoan it, and his analysis is insightful, richly documented and, yes, eloquently written.” —Steven Pinker, author of The BlankSlate and The Language Instinct

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