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Splendiferous Speech

How Early Americans Pioneered Their Own Brand of English

Rosemarie Ostler


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (11/26/2018)


What does it mean to talk like an American? According to John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms, it means indulging in outlandish slang—splendiferous, scrumptious, higgeldy piggedly—and free-and-easy word creation—demoralize, lengthy, gerrymander. American English is more than just vocabulary, though. It’s a picturesque way of talking that includes expressions like go the whole hog, and the wild boasts of frontiersman Davy Crockett, who claimed to be “half horse, half alligator, and a touch of the airthquake.” Splendiferous Speech explores the main sources of the American vernacular—the expanding western frontier, the bumptious world of politics, and the sensation-filled pages of popular nineteenth-century newspapers. It’s a process that started with the earliest English colonists (first word adoption—the Algonquian raccoon) and is still going strong today. Author Rosemarie Ostler takes readers along on the journey as Americans learn to declare linguistic independence and embrace their own brand of speech. For anyone who wonders how we got from the English of King James to the slang of the Internet, it’s an exhilarating ride.

Praise For Splendiferous Speech: How Early Americans Pioneered Their Own Brand of English

“I read about language every day, and I was still delighted and surprised by almost every page. You’ll find new, splendiferous ways of looking at the men (and occasionally women) of American history—as creators of a new language as well as a new country.” —Mignon Fogarty, podcaster and author of
Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Splendiferous Speech is the compelling and engaging story of American English’s tumultuous adolescence, and every page will give you new appreciation of the words and expressions that make American English so vibrant.” —Erin McKean, founder of Wordnik and author of Totally Weird and Wonderful Words and The Secret Lives of Dresses

“A delightful tour of how America claimed English for itself, weaving together into a vibrant lexical tapestry contributions from knickerbockers and Yankees, cattle ranchers and gold prospectors, the jargon of Wall Street and the floor of Congress, and the patter of the bars and the streets.” —Arika Okrent, author of In the Land of Invented Languages

Chicago Review Press, 9780912777054, 272pp.

Publication Date: November 6, 2018

About the Author

Rosemarie Ostler holds a PhD in Linguistics and has been interviewed on numerous radio programs including NPR’s Tell Me More and The Bob Edwards Show. She is the author of four books about American English: Founding Grammars, a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award for Nonfiction; Slinging Mud; Let’s Talk Turkey; and Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers. Ostler has written for The Saturday Evening Post, Christian Science Monitor, Writer’s Digest, and other magazines.