Origins of the Specious
Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language
Publication Date: August 24, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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Do you cringe when a talking head pronounces “niche” as NITCH? Do you get bent out of shape when your teenager begins a sentence with “and”? Do you think British spellings are more “civilised” than the American versions? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re myth-informed.
In Origins of the Specious, word mavens Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman reveal why some of grammar’s best-known “rules” aren’t—and never were—rules at all. This playfully witty, rigorously researched book sets the record straight about bogus word origins, politically correct fictions, phony français, fake acronyms, and more. Here are some shockers: “They” was once commonly used for both singular and plural, much the way “you” is today. And an eighteenth-century female grammarian, of all people, is largely responsible for the all-purpose “he.” From the Queen’s English to street slang, this eye-opening romp will be the toast of grammarphiles and the salvation of grammarphobes. Take our word for it.
Patricia T. O’Conner, a former editor at The New York Times Book Review, has written four books on language and writing–the bestselling Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English; Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing; Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English; and You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online.
Stewart Kellerman has been an editor at The New York Times and a foreign correspondent for UPI in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. He co-authored You Send Me with his wife, Patricia T. O’Conner, and he runs their website and blog at grammarphobia.com. They live in rural Connecticut.
"Every bartender in the land should have a copy of this vastly amusing and highly informative book. Then when some tipsy bore declares that posh derives from Port Out, Starboard Home, or that you must never say disinterested when you mean uninterested, he can bring it out from behind the jar of cocktail cherries, and smack him on the head with it." —Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and The Meaning of Everything
“With common sense and uncommon wit, O'Conner and Kellerman solve more mysteries than all the Law & Order series combined. Origins of the Specious will teach you why it is OK to bravely split an infinitive, why using "ain't" ain't so bad, and why ending a sentence with a preposition is where it's at.”—David Feldman, author of the Imponderables book series
"Origins of the Specious is a witty and informative guide to the perplexities of the English language. I enjoyed it immensely."—Stephen Miller, author of Conversation: A History of a Declining Art and The Peculiar Life of Sundays
“It's right there on page 51: ‘it's better to be understood than to be correct’—pull that out the next time someone corrects your grandma. This tour de force of our beautifully corrupted language is both. And dull it ain't. If you're planning to buy just one book of etymology this year, you've got it right in your hand.”—Garrison Keillor
"Bestselling word maven O'Conner (Woe Is I) is that rare grammarian who values clear, natural expression over the mindless application of rules.…Proper English, she contends, is what the majority of us say it is (though she can't resist making a traditionalist plea to preserve favored words like “unique” and “ironic” from corruption). Writers will appreciate O'Conner's liberating, common-sense approach to the language, and readers the entertaining sprightliness of her prose."—Publishers Weekly
"Happily fresh…Skillfully drawing on the Oxford English Dictionary and other research tools, the writers always present conversational prose with different kinds of wordplays…An accessible tone and full of information."— Library Journal