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The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution…
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The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from…

by Jack Lynch

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3253934,071 (4.05)36
  1. 10
    The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left by David Crystal (staffordcastle)
    staffordcastle: David Crystal's narrative of the history of "prescriptive" and "proscriptive" language reformers.
  2. 10
    Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (infiniteletters)
  3. 00
    The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester (themockturtle)
  4. 00
    Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler (jsoos)
    jsoos: provides a "biography" of Latin - leaves off where Lexicographer's Dilemma begins
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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This book is entertaining while doing a great job of telling the history of how our language has come to be compiled--while also explaining what the "dilemma" of the title is. Lynch shows how the two camps (prescriptivists and descriptivists) have tussled ever since there was something to tussle about. Is a dictionary meant to compile and describe the language as it is spoken, or is it meant to tell us how it "should" be spoken, which is never the same thing? There is even a chapter on the "bad words" which, for anyone who ever looked up a swear word in the school dictionary as a child, is an essential part of the story. ( )
  templetonbreaks | Mar 29, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A fun read for those who like words and the history of words. ( )
  MacDiva | Oct 22, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
a delightful read for word freaks or those interested in the arcane and twisting paths of word use in english. i read it twice in a row from cover to cover. uses of english as boxing motivations: cute. ( )
  sushi105 | Jun 11, 2012 |
A fun read for any word maven, or anyone interested in a brief dip in to the origins and crooked paths of English language usage. Lynch keeps it light and entertaining, while providing lots of historical perspective. My only complaint is that he tends to repeat himself a bit, restating in the early chapters observations made in the introduction, and in the later chapters observations made in the earlier chapters. Normally no big deal, but sometimes written as if he (or the reader, at least) has forgotten what had already been said. No big deal though. A highly recommended read. Follow this up with Robert Burchfield's "The English Language".

Os. ( )
  Osbaldistone | Feb 25, 2011 |
"Words, words, words." - Hamlet

Thus Hamlet answered Polonius' question as to what he was reading. Our reading can range from the sublimity of Beckett's arid yet vivid prose to the Rabelaisian abundance of words, bordering on the ridiculous, that one finds in books like Infinite Jest. In The Lexicographer's Dilemma, an all too short book considering the subject, Jack Lynch attempts an history of the English language - a history of words. His focus is on what is considered "proper" English and who gets to say what words are in or out. He discusses the rules that have been developed over the years and investigates their history. In doing so he discovers that behind every word is a human shadow in the form of a story about people who shaped our language. In the realm of dictionaries the most influential person chronicled is James A. H. Murray, but Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster also have leading roles. Many others including scientists like Joseph Priestley, poets like John Dryden, dramatists such as Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw and many others all have a contribute to this history. I found the journey through history enjoyable primarily because I am an omnivorous reader who would respond to Polonius' question just as Hamlet did with the response -- Words, words, words. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Feb 8, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
... an entertaining tour of the English language ...
... spends a good deal of time on the evolution of dictionaries ...
... throughout this very readable book he makes clear that he thinks the grammar scolds need to shut up, or at least tone it down ...
 
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For these great teachers:
Bill Reinhart, Steve Dessants, David Jepson
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Everybody complains about language, but nobody does anything about it—well, almost nobody. This book is an account of some of the people who did try to do something about it. It's about the rise of "standard English."
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Book description
Vulgarities of speech: homo sapiens learns to talk

The age in which I live: John Dryden revises his works

Proper words in proper places: Jonathan Swift demands an academy

Enchaining syllables, lashing the wind: Samuel Johnson lays down the law

The art of using words properly: Joseph Priestley seeks genuine and established principles

The people in these states: Noah Webster Americanizes the language

Words, words, words: James Murray surveys anglicity

The taste and fancy of the speller: George Bernard Shaw rewrites the ABCs

Direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid: Henry Watson Fowler shows the way

Sabotage in Springfield: Philip Gove Stokes the flames

Expletive deleted: George Carlin vexes the censors

Grammar, and nonsense, and learning: we look to the future.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802717004, Hardcover)

For language buffs and lexicographers, copy editors and proofreaders, and anyone who appreciates the connection between language and culture—the illuminating story of “proper English.”

In its long history, the English language has had many lawmakers—those who have tried to regulate, or otherwise organize, the way we speak. The Lexicographer’s Dilemma offers the first narrative history of these endeavors, showing clearly that what we now regard as the only “correct” way to speak emerged out of specific historical and social conditions over the course of centuries.

As literary historian Jack Lynch has discovered, every rule has a human history, and the characters peopling his narrative are as interesting for their obsession as for their erudition. The struggle between prescriptivists, who prescribe a correct approach, and descriptivists, who analyze how language works, is at the heart of Lynch’s story. From the sharp-tongued satirist Jonathan Swift, who called for a governmentsponsored academy to issue rulings on the language, and the polymath Samuel Johnson, who put dictionaries on a new footing, to John Horne Tooke, the crackpot linguist whose bizarre theories continue to baffle scholars; Joseph Priestley, whose political radicalism prompted riots; and the ever-crotchety Noah Webster, whose goal was to Americanize the English language—Lynch brings to life a varied cast as illuminating as it is entertaining.

Grammatical “rules” or “laws” are not like the law of gravity, or laws against theft or murder—they’re more like rules of etiquette, made by fallible people and subject to change. Charting the evolution of English, Jack Lynch puts today’s debates—whether about Ebonics in the schools or split infinitives in the New York Times—in a rich historical context, and makes us appreciate anew the hard-won standards we now enjoy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:00 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

What does proper English mean, and who gets to say what's right? Lynch has discovered every rule of English usage has a human history, and makes sense only in a historical context. They're more like rules of etiquette, made by fallible people and subject to change.… (more)

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