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By Hook or By Crook

de David Crystal

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238885,232 (3.41)17
Combines personal reflections, historical allusions, and traveler's observations about the author's encounters with language and its users throughout the English-speaking world.
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This is going to come across as being overly-harsh criticism, but here goes...

1. The subtitle of this book has no right to be there. 'In Search of English' - the majority of the text concerns one small corner of England, close to the border between England and Wales, and there's no sense of Crystal truly 'searching' for English along his meandering travels.
2. The book itself is disjointed, a bit of a mess. Crystal allows his thoughts to wander, leaping from one topic to another, with barely a cohesive conjunction to help you from one to the other. You could say that the writing is poor-man's-Bryson or something like that (after all, Bryson himself is a fan of leaping about) but it lacks control, and the digressions seem to pad out the book as much as add to it.
3. A lot of what Crystal has to say about word origins, spelling rules, local variations, and the culture of linguistics as a whole, is fascinating; but it gets so hard to stay with him that you'll find yourself reading a few pages, wondering about what you've been told (and sometimes why), and then putting the book down to go in search of an alternative. I've frankly never felt that way with Bryson.

So I've got a few negative thoughts about this book, but I did read it from cover to cover (well, I skimmed through the sections on tech etymology - words and expressions that have come to us through computers and the online world - Crystal has never lived up to his name with his predictions of what will and what won't survive the test of time, and so much of what he reports here will strike you as anachronistic). Crystal's writerly voice rarely grates; if you can put up with the scatter-gun approach (I would have loved the application of Foster Wallace's footnote system here!) you might actually get some real enjoyment from this volume. ( )
1 vota soylentgreen23 | Dec 11, 2018 |
I have this on my bedside table & am reading it slowly & savoring it. Makes me want to (a) go back to Wales and (b) take a linguistics course. Lovely writer! ( )
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
Crystal suffers somewhat from critics who expect a book about language (it's not), or a tour guide of Britain (it's not). The title of the book must take some of the blame. This is not so much a journey in search of English as a series of digressions while on assignment to a television network developing a series on British accents. There is a sort of beginning and end which tie together, but the middle (and greater) part is simply a pleasant perigrination through language and places that appeal to Crystal's interest and whimsy. If he'd made the journey with a dog, or carrying a fridge on his back, or in some more remote part of the world, the critics might have been less hard on him, but this one really aims to be no more than a simple, and simply, entertaining ramble - and delivers on its promise. ( )
  nandadevi | Sep 11, 2015 |
Linguist David Crystal travels through England and Wales, delving into whatever language- or history-related subjects happen to occur to him along the way. Among other things, these include the origins of phrases and place names (lots and lots of place names), the differences between various regional accents and dialects, the works of writers like Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien, the history of pub signs, and the communication methods of bees. All of which sounds very much like the sort of thing I enjoy, and the potential appeal is only enhanced by the discovery that Crystal and I have a few fun things in common, including a love for the 1960s TV show The Prisoner. (He makes a point of paying a visit to the village where it was filmed.)

Unfortunately, the stream-of-consciousness structure he uses just doesn't work very well. He'll ramble on for pages and pages of random linguistic digression only to suddenly dump the reader back in the middle of a conversation or a highway we'd long since forgotten about, landing us there with a jarring thud. His writing also often tends toward a somewhat dry, let-me-tell-you-way-more-than-you-really-wanted-to-know kind of style that may work all right in his more academic writing but is a little out of place in something this informal.

There are lots of interesting tidbits of information, and it did give me some insight into British language and culture, but it really just wasn't nearly as good as it ought to have been. I'm giving it three and a half stars, but if I'm honest, that extra half star might just reflect my appreciation for his good taste in television. ( )
2 vota bragan | Aug 9, 2011 |
If you're a fan of David Crystal's writing, travelogues, and language, I'd highly recommend this book, but unless all three of those are true, it probably bears some more consideration. This book isn't academic and doesn't have a hugely strong narrative propelling it forward, but it is clear from reading it how much Crystal loves language. Since I feel much the same way, I found it extremely enjoyable, but if you're seeking something very informative, there are probably other books out there better suited to your needs. ( )
  kelsiface | Sep 24, 2010 |
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Combines personal reflections, historical allusions, and traveler's observations about the author's encounters with language and its users throughout the English-speaking world.

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