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Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United…

by Bill Bryson

Other authors: Bruce McCall (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,898432,517 (3.82)63
Bill Bryson turns away from travelling the highways and byways of middle America, so hilariously depicted in his bestselling The Lost Continent, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and Notes from a Big Country, for a fast, exhilarating ride along the Route 66 of American language and popular culture.In Made in America, Bryson tells the story of how American arose out of the English language, and along the way, de-mythologises his native land - explaining how a dusty desert hamlet with neither woods nor holly became Hollywood, how the Wild West wasn't won, why Americans say 'lootenant' and 'Toosday', how they were eating junk food long before the word itself was cooked up - as well as exposing the true origins of the words G-string, blockbuster, poker and snafu.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
I listened to this on audio.

Up front, let me state that I thought this book was going to be entirely about how the English language evolved in the United States since the revolution. It is, but only marginally. It's much more a short history of the USA's short history, with the evolution of words, terms, idioms or neologisms worked into the timeline.

I was fine with this one I readjusted my expectations, but the first couple of chapters and my expectations sort of clashed. Once I adjusted, I enjoyed it quite a bit, as I usually do with all of Bill Bryson's writing. I appreciate his humour and his attempt at cultural balance and I feel like when he doesn't know something (or other sources don't) he just says it - he doesn't try to bluster his way through.

I didn't give the book a higher rating, because as an audio book, this one isn't the greatest. The narrator does a great job but the text itself doesn't always lend itself to reading out loud: Bryson uses a LOT of word lists and I just couldn't stay tuned in - my mind wandered. There are a lot of parts of this book I'm going to have to go back to and read in print form because I just tuned out when the lists started up.

If you're interested in a short and concise history of the USA and how the English language grew with the country, I recommend this one - but maybe read it, and skip the audio version; I think you'll get more out of it. ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 17, 2022 |
Two books in one, Bill Bryson's “Made in America” (1994) is both a lively history of popular culture in America and an etymology of the words and phrases that grew out of that culture.

Bryson tells us what the Puritans did for fun, how frozen foods were invented (by accident, like so much else), how McDonald's restaurants came to be (Ray Kroc actually had little to do with it), why in wagon trains the wagons actually traveled not in line but side by side and that the first hit movie, although it was not yet called a movie, was “Fred Ott's Sneeze,” showing exactly what the title says.

Shopping carts originated in Oklahoma City back in 1936, Bryson tells us, but the inventor, Sylvan Goldman, had to hire people to demonstrate to customers how to use them.

What does George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, have to do with the word groggy? The plantation was named after the British admiral Edward Vernon, whose nickname was Old Grog. The daily ration of rum Vernon gave his sailors came to be known as grog, and those who drank too much of it were said to be groggy.

Such "classic Italian dishes" as chicken tetrazzini, veal parmigiana, fettuccine Alfredo and even spaghetti and meatballs originated in the United States. So did Russian dressing, French dressing and chop sued.

In the 1990 census 40 percent more Americans claimed to be Indians than 10 years previously. Was Elizabeth Warren one of these?

And so Bryson goes on for 400 pages. The author has a knack for digging up obscure trivia and then presenting it in entertaining prose. Open the book to any paragraph and you are likely to find something interesting that you won't remember ever hearing before — and probably won't remember tomorrow. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Feb 15, 2021 |
An earlier Bryson, this one, while funny and full of lots of factoids, started to wear thin on me as it is working itself through all the facets of US life. I found the first half of the book more informative, though it may have been the concepts Bryson focuses on n the second half that just did not keep my interest.
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
A very good book with lots and lots of trivia.....so much, in fact, that there is no point in trying to remember much of it....just enjoy it! I think it becomes patently clear when reading Bryson’s books that he preferred life elsewhere for any number of reasons, many of which see the light of day in this book. Tis a good companion to Mother Tongue which I read 25 or so years ago. There is a bit more historical narrative in the book than is really necessary, unless done for the American culturally deprived (which would include a majority of U.S. citizens). Finished 23.04.2020 in Malta during the plague. ( )
  untraveller | Apr 22, 2020 |
$9.95
  CapitalCityPCS | Sep 20, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCall, BruceIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Quinnell, ArcherCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To David, Felicity, Catherine, and Sam
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In the 1940s, a British traveller to Anholt, a small island fifty miles out in the Kattegat straight between Denmark and Sweden, noticed that the island children sang a piece of doggerel that was clearly nonsense to them. (introduction)
The image of the spiritual founding of America that generations of Americans have grown up with was created, oddly enough, by a poet of limited talents (to put it in the most magnanimous possible way) who lived two centuries after the event in a country three thousand miles away.
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As Jefferson put it: "The new circumstances under which we are placed, call for new words, new phrases, and for the transfer of old words to new objects".
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Bill Bryson turns away from travelling the highways and byways of middle America, so hilariously depicted in his bestselling The Lost Continent, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and Notes from a Big Country, for a fast, exhilarating ride along the Route 66 of American language and popular culture.In Made in America, Bryson tells the story of how American arose out of the English language, and along the way, de-mythologises his native land - explaining how a dusty desert hamlet with neither woods nor holly became Hollywood, how the Wild West wasn't won, why Americans say 'lootenant' and 'Toosday', how they were eating junk food long before the word itself was cooked up - as well as exposing the true origins of the words G-string, blockbuster, poker and snafu.

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