Reserching the basicks

This didn't fit in our most recent books page, and it's a good gift idea for bibliophiles, linguophiles, and logophiles on your holiday list:

Self-described "crap speller" David Wolman sets out in a literary-historical-travelogue across the English-speaking world to discover who, exactly, made the rules that have tormented him since primary school, and why. In Righting the Mother Tongue, Wolman (whom I went to college with) is humorously both descriptivist and prescriptivist, not only saying what happened and how, but also expressing frustration at the confounding results of "orthographic renovation." (Spelling revisions often make things worse, even when in search of allegedly easier or more historically accurate spellings - as in the 15th century, when "words like sissors, coud, and ancor were turned into scissors, could, and anchor.") Including protestations from today's Simplified Spelling Society, and testing himself in a local spelling bee, Wolman doesn't fix the problem, but he clearly spells it out.

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling | by David Wolman | Smithsonian Books | 211 pages | $24.95

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