Spellbound Cover


The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling

By James Essinger

Delta, Paperback, 9780385340847, 305pp.

Publication Date: May 1, 2007


Welcome to the illogical, idiosyncratic, outrageous linguistic phenomenon known as the English language. The story of how this ragtag collection of words evolved is a winding tale replete with intriguing accidents and bizarre twists of fate. In this eye-opening, fabulously entertaining book, James Essinger unlocks the mysteries that have confounded linguists and scholars for millennia.

From the sophisticated writing systems of the ancient Sumerians through the tongue twisters of Middle English, the popular National Spelling Bee, and the mobile phone text-messaging of today, Spellbound chronicles the fascinating history of English spelling, including insights about the vast number of words English has borrowed from other languages (“orange,” “vanilla,” and “ketchup,” to name a few), and how their meanings differ from country to country. Featuring a lively cast of characters ranging from the fictional to the historically noteworthy (Chaucer, Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, Shakespeare, Bill Gates), this affectionate tribute to English spelling shows why our whimsical, capricious common language continues to hold us spellbound.

About the Author
James Essinger is an Oxford graduate who has published more than thirty books. He is particularly interested in the history of ideas that have had a practical impact on the modern world. His previous writings and his time spent teaching English abroad leave him exceptionally well qualified in the linguistic field.

Praise For Spellbound

“His enthusiasm is contagious.... Mr. Essinger explains convincingly why our verb inflections are as simple as they are and why our nouns have no grammatical gender.”—Wall Street Journal