The Language Wars


I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Although some of the reviews I read mentioned that the middle chapters were tedious, I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Hitchings may go off argument but he never goes off topic, and The Language Wars isn’t just a history of the fight for “proper English”. It’s also a personal essay in which Hitchings shares his opinions about our bastard tongue and comes down on the side of the language liberals rather than the conservatives. That amounts to a lot of words about words, some of which are objective, others delightfully not (although if you disagree with him, perhaps less delightful). Like English, it’s a mishmash: of history, grammar, fun trivia, science and observation. Of course it’s bloody well written, too. And researched. Indeed, one of the book’s great surprises is how many other books and authors I now want to read because Hitchings mentioned them. Is there such a thing as a “gateway read”? All in all, I recommend The Language Wars to anyone who’s ever wondered where to place a comma, whether spelling it “colour” or “color” makes more sense, or if using a semi-colon will make you seem like a totally pompous ass. You won’t find answers to those problems, but you will gain a greater understanding of why such answers are hard to give and why the grammar pedants are, therefore, very often wrong…


One thought on “The Language Wars

  1. I have read some entertaining books on language, specially on English. My most favourite is Lynne Truss’s “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”. That book is about punctuation and the author has written it in such a delightful way that the book makes you want to read it twice. So, I can imagine how lovely The Language Wars must be. I will read it at the first opportunity. Thanks for sharing.

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