Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Book Review: Made in America by Bill Bryson
Title: Made in America:An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
Similar Books: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Purchased from Waldenbooks
Language is fascinating and the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch attests to this fact. The Pennsylvania Dutch aren't even Dutch- they're German. The name is an "accident of history". They are one of the few American ethnic groups that formed their own language.
They're also, according to author Bill Bryson, one of the many ethnic groups that have left their mark on the American way of speaking. Yes, they speak German, but their German is different from Germany's German. They have a host of strangely specific words.
For example, fedderschei is the condition of being reluctant to write letters. And aarschgnoddle are "the globules of dung found on hair in the vicinity of the anus".
Bryson doesn't know why the Pennsylvania Germans/Dutch would need such a word and neither do I--but I have found a new (very mature) name to call people when they piss me off.
Made in America is divided into topics- food, sports, politics, sex, shopping, inventions- and each chapter relates the history of key words and their attached concepts.
Bryson examines language as a living thing that changes over time, reflecting the growth of the people who use it. Many discussions about English end up lamenting the death of Shakespeare's great language, as if a) Shakespeare himself didn't make up new words, altering 'his' language forever and b) languages are supposed to remain the same.
This book left me feeling educated, as if I had just completed a course in everything there is.
I would love to see it updated to include the language of the Internet age. WTF? G2G, TTYL.