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Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don't Rhyme and Other Oddities of the English Language

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Maybe you've been speaking English all your life, or maybe you learned it later on. But whether you use it just well enough to get your daily business done, or you're an expert with a red pen who never omits a comma or misplaces a modifier, you must have noticed that there are some things about this language that are just weird. Perhaps you're reading a book and stop to puz Maybe you've been speaking English all your life, or maybe you learned it later on. But whether you use it just well enough to get your daily business done, or you're an expert with a red pen who never omits a comma or misplaces a modifier, you must have noticed that there are some things about this language that are just weird. Perhaps you're reading a book and stop to puzzle over absurd spelling rules (Why are there so many ways to say '-gh'?), or you hear someone talking and get stuck on an expression (Why do we say How dare you but not How try you?), or your kid quizzes you on homework (Why is it eleven and twelve instead of oneteen and twoteen?). Suddenly you ask yourself, Wait, why do we do it this way? You think about it, try to explain it, and keep running into walls. It doesn't conform to logic. It doesn't work the way you'd expect it to. There doesn't seem to be any rule at all. There might not be a logical explanation, but there will be an explanation, and this book is here to help. In Highly Irregular, Arika Okrent answers these questions and many more. Along the way she tells the story of the many influences--from invading French armies to stubborn Flemish printers--that made our language the way it is today. Both an entertaining send-up of linguistic oddities and a deeply researched history of English, Highly Irregular is essential reading for anyone who has paused to wonder about our marvelous mess of a language.


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Maybe you've been speaking English all your life, or maybe you learned it later on. But whether you use it just well enough to get your daily business done, or you're an expert with a red pen who never omits a comma or misplaces a modifier, you must have noticed that there are some things about this language that are just weird. Perhaps you're reading a book and stop to puz Maybe you've been speaking English all your life, or maybe you learned it later on. But whether you use it just well enough to get your daily business done, or you're an expert with a red pen who never omits a comma or misplaces a modifier, you must have noticed that there are some things about this language that are just weird. Perhaps you're reading a book and stop to puzzle over absurd spelling rules (Why are there so many ways to say '-gh'?), or you hear someone talking and get stuck on an expression (Why do we say How dare you but not How try you?), or your kid quizzes you on homework (Why is it eleven and twelve instead of oneteen and twoteen?). Suddenly you ask yourself, Wait, why do we do it this way? You think about it, try to explain it, and keep running into walls. It doesn't conform to logic. It doesn't work the way you'd expect it to. There doesn't seem to be any rule at all. There might not be a logical explanation, but there will be an explanation, and this book is here to help. In Highly Irregular, Arika Okrent answers these questions and many more. Along the way she tells the story of the many influences--from invading French armies to stubborn Flemish printers--that made our language the way it is today. Both an entertaining send-up of linguistic oddities and a deeply researched history of English, Highly Irregular is essential reading for anyone who has paused to wonder about our marvelous mess of a language.

30 review for Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don't Rhyme and Other Oddities of the English Language

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    Highly irregular, indeed! This book is one of the most entertaining works, either fiction or nonfiction, that I have read in a long time and also one of the most informative. No one who has learned English, either as a child or later in life, could fail to notice that our language has a lot of weird and inconsistent items, and this book is a collection of articles exploring many of those oddities for those of us who are neither historians nor linguistics professors. First there is a general disc Highly irregular, indeed! This book is one of the most entertaining works, either fiction or nonfiction, that I have read in a long time and also one of the most informative. No one who has learned English, either as a child or later in life, could fail to notice that our language has a lot of weird and inconsistent items, and this book is a collection of articles exploring many of those oddities for those of us who are neither historians nor linguistics professors. First there is a general discussion of the main types of weirdness found in English, and then there are four sections on “who is to blame for this mess”. Going back in history, the “barbarians” are the first culprits, followed by the French, then the printing press (that danged Gutenberg!), and then the snobs. Finally, Okrent tells us we can blame ourselves and warns us that is not likely to change. A lot of the history here was not the sort emphasized in my history classes, nor was the linguistics the type I learned I school either. In addition to learning fun history and linguistics, I also increased my vocabulary with words like “pleonasm”, which is a useless waste of verbiage using words that are overly redundant! I am not a big fan of illustrations, which often fail to hit the mark, but Sean O’Neill’s cartoons are the perfect accompaniment to the text. They are fun, inventive, and they illustrate the points. In one cartoon a guy holding a mug of beer gawks at a sign saying “Be THOUGHTFUL to our NEIGHBORS No COUGHING No LAUGHING after EIGHT PM”. And who can resist a cartoon showing a young Roman boy in a toga riding a skateboard? I am also pleased to report that they come through fine in an ebook format, and I hope the publisher will decide to make it available in that format. The style of the book may be informal, but it is clear from the Bibliography, whose contents range from popular works like Richard Lederer’s Crazy English to academic papers like “A Phonological Motivation behind the Diatonic Stress Shift in Modern English”, that Arika Okrent did a thorough job on her research. Something tells me that she probably had as much fun with that research as I had with the product. Let me recommend that you read this book either alone or in the company of others who do not mind your regular bursts of laughter and interruptions when you share especially good tidbits. Probably everyone has wondered at some time why English is the way it is. “No matter how much we break it down, lay it out, look it over, or go over it…we may not know exactly why we can’t also ‘go it over’ , but we don’t have to go it alone.” Thanks to Arika Okrent we can always turn to Highly Irregular. I received an advance review copy of this book through the publisher and Edelweiss.

  2. 5 out of 5

    lafemmeabsurde

    •"But language is not a product of engineering. It is the product of evolution, and the faults of English are similar to those that can be found in our body." Highly Irregular is a super fun take on the important and eccentric chunks of the metamorphosis of English from being a rather insignificant 'spoken' language to being the world's most important medium of communication.  It's a book that can be read without any prior linguistic knowledge. If read from cover to cover (which is what I did) , i •"But language is not a product of engineering. It is the product of evolution, and the faults of English are similar to those that can be found in our body." Highly Irregular is a super fun take on the important and eccentric chunks of the metamorphosis of English from being a rather insignificant 'spoken' language to being the world's most important medium of communication.  It's a book that can be read without any prior linguistic knowledge. If read from cover to cover (which is what I did) , it reads like a fun ride through time. •"The weirdness of English can be blamed on its history." In the mesh of colonization, immigration, cross cultural ancestors,  and living in a cosmopolitan city, I began unpacking all of these layers in hopes of understanding who I am (or rather the product of what). This lead me to making an unofficial linguistic quest, which gives some context to why you must try this gorgeous book. For better or worse, the history of the English language and its evolution are of import even two those who acquired it as a second or even a third language.  The illustrations by Sean O'Neil are so stupendous,  they deserve a whole separate post  Thank you @oxunipress for the advanced reader's copy, it has truly been an honour 💙

  3. 4 out of 5

    Al

    When I started this book, I envisioned just another presentation of odd English words, pronunciations and usages, and was prepared to be somewhat enlightened, but maybe a little bored. The cutesy cover did nothing to dispel my expectations. Happily, I seriously underestimated Ms. Okrent. Lighthearted the book may be, but it includes some fascinating linguistic history. Ms. Okrent reaches way back in time to trace the development of many English words, groups of words, and their quirks of pronun When I started this book, I envisioned just another presentation of odd English words, pronunciations and usages, and was prepared to be somewhat enlightened, but maybe a little bored. The cutesy cover did nothing to dispel my expectations. Happily, I seriously underestimated Ms. Okrent. Lighthearted the book may be, but it includes some fascinating linguistic history. Ms. Okrent reaches way back in time to trace the development of many English words, groups of words, and their quirks of pronunciation. If you are interested at all in the English language, you are bound to find things here that you didn't know, and enjoy reading about them as well.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Vladimir

    Witty. Interesting. And also witty.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ross Owen

    I wish I could give this book more than 5 stars. It should be required reading for every middle school and highschool english class. It is a perfect balance of scholarly research and layman accessibility. Read it and enjoy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robert Stevens

    I first heard of this book on an episode of one of my favorite podcasts: LINGTHUSIASM. I am so glad that I bought this one. This book was a joy to read as a lover of languages and the history of English. It is an easy read even if you aren’t into English and the illustrations by Sean O’Neill are a nice touch. As a French teacher, I love the BLAME THE FRENCH section and I will probably find a way to incorporate what I learned into my teaching in some way. Favorite Quote: “When it comes to languag I first heard of this book on an episode of one of my favorite podcasts: LINGTHUSIASM. I am so glad that I bought this one. This book was a joy to read as a lover of languages and the history of English. It is an easy read even if you aren’t into English and the illustrations by Sean O’Neill are a nice touch. As a French teacher, I love the BLAME THE FRENCH section and I will probably find a way to incorporate what I learned into my teaching in some way. Favorite Quote: “When it comes to language, we are creatures of habit and creatures of creativity. It seems those two forces would pull us in opposite directions, but we manage to have it all at once.” Favorite Sections: + “The Colonel of Truth: What Is The Deal With The Word Colonel” + “Crazy English: Why Do We Drove on a Parkway and Park on a Driveway? + “Woe Is We: Why Is It Woe Is Me, Not I am Woe?” + “Asthma, Phlegm, and Diarrhea: Why All The Extra Letters?” + “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Scramble It: Why Is There No Egg In Eggplant

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    A really fun book! I'd glanced across some of the content in other books and yet the author managed to bring fresh new insights to even those topics. From time to time my head was a'spinnin' from the etymological history, but that was rare and mostly I delighted in the history and detail provided. Like, seriously delighted. The wee art bits were like a cherry on top of the delightful sundae which this book was. A really fun book! I'd glanced across some of the content in other books and yet the author managed to bring fresh new insights to even those topics. From time to time my head was a'spinnin' from the etymological history, but that was rare and mostly I delighted in the history and detail provided. Like, seriously delighted. The wee art bits were like a cherry on top of the delightful sundae which this book was.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Loulou

    Deceptively enjoyable. Well researched. Interesting and informative.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lukman Edwindra

    A pleasant book to read. The illustrations are funny

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shari

    A delightful book for anyone interested in language and how (and why) English in particular has changed over the years. It's based on solid scholarship, but is never boring. I guarantee it will, at the very least, make you smile. A delightful book for anyone interested in language and how (and why) English in particular has changed over the years. It's based on solid scholarship, but is never boring. I guarantee it will, at the very least, make you smile.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bocca

  13. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  15. 4 out of 5

    Beverly Clemmer

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dana

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  18. 5 out of 5

    Turi Becker

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rod Haper

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cait

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bobby Bermuda

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Leinbach

  24. 4 out of 5

    John P. Balcer

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ben Russo

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rina

  30. 4 out of 5

    Donnie Pennington

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