Righting the Mother Tongue
From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling
By David Wolman
(Smithsonian, Hardcover, 9780061369254, 224pp.)
Publication Date: October 2008
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Righting the Mother Tongue tells the cockamamie story of English spelling. When did ghost acquire its silent 'h'? Will cyberspace kill the one in rhubarb? And was it really rocket scientists who invented spell-check?
Seeking to untangle the twisted story of English spelling, David Wolman takes us on a wordly adventure from English battlefields to Google headquarters. Along the way, he pickets with spelling reformers outside the national spelling bee, visits the town in Belgium, not England, where the first English books were printed, and takes a road-trip with the boss at Merriam-Webster Inc. The journey is punctuated by spelling battles waged by the likes of Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie and the members of today's Simplified Spelling Society.
Rich with history, pop culture, curiosity and humor, Righting the Mother Tongue explores how English spelling came to be, traces efforts to mend the code and imagines the shape of tomorrow's words.
David Wolman is the author of A Left-Hand Turn Around the World and writes for magazines such as Wired, Newsweek, Outside, National Geographic Traveler and New Scientist. He lives in Portland, OR.
“Sprightly history that sensibly balances the merits of standardization against the forces for freedom.”
“A funny and fact-filled look at our astoundingly inconsistent written language, from Shakespeare to spell-check.”
-St. Petersburg Times
An intellectual travelogue across the centuries that also ranges geographically from the Litchfield haunts of Dr. Johnson, creator of the first great English dictionary, to the Silicon Valley home of Les Earnest, the progenitor of computerized spell-checking.
-Wall Street Journal
“An engaging ramble through our orthographic thickets”
The lively, informative book is full of evidence/cocktail party fodder proving that the English spelling system is a hopeless tangle of French, Dutch, Latin, German and much, much more and really makes no sense at all.
A lively, engaging look at the idiosyncratic derivations and permutations of spelling in the English language.
-Seattle Post Intelligencer