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Spell It Out

The Curious, Enthralling, and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling

David Crystal


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ISBN10: 1250056128
ISBN13: 9781250056122

Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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With The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal took us on a tour through the history of our language. Now, with Spell It Out, he takes on the task of answering all the questions about how we spell: "Why is English spelling so difficult?" Or "Why are good spellers so proud of their achievement that when they see a misspelling they condemn the writer as sloppy, lazy, or uneducated?" In thirty-seven short, engaging and informative chapters, Crystal takes readers on a history of English spelling, starting with the Roman missionaries' sixth century introduction of the Roman alphabet and ending with where the language might be going. He looks individually at each letter in the alphabet and its origins. He considers the question of vowels and how people developed a way to tell whether or not it was long or short. He looks at influences from other cultures, and explains how English speakers understood that the "o" in "hopping" was a short vowel, rather than the long vowel of "hoping". If you've ever asked yourself questions like "Why do the words "their", "there" and "they're" sound alike, but mean very different things?" or "How can we tell the difference between "charge" the verb and "charge" the noun?" David Crystal's Spell It Out will spell it all out for you.


Praise for Spell It Out

"Crystal's splendid book, the latest in a long line by this prolific language truffler, proceeds chronologically, deep in learning and characteristically light on its feet."—Marcus Berkmann, Daily Mail (UK)

"A prolific author . . . He can write with authority on trends in the spelling of rhubarb and indeed on the history of the spelling of any tricky word you care to mention. For him, the patterns are clear . . . Highly entertaining."—The Observer (UK)

"This masterly book is a deft guide with a light touch."—The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"A must-read . . . An entertaining and fascinating study of how English spelling became so wildly inconsistent."—The Sunday Times (UK)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

David Crystal

David Crystal is the author of The Story of English in 100 Words and Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the English language. He lives in the United Kingdom.

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