John McWhorter is an academic, a popular writer and an associate professor at Columbia University. I listened to his book, The Story of Human Language a couple or three years ago – (a Great Courses audio), enjoyed it tremendously and although I wanted to read another since then, nothing really caught my eye. Words on the Move was on sale though so … well … what’s a good girl to do?
Words on the Move: Why English Won’t – and Can’t – Sit Still (Like, Literally)
by John McWhorter
2016 / 272 pages
Read by: John McWhorter 7h 1m
Rating: 8 / non-fiction – language/linguistics
This book is nowhere on the level of the Great Courses lecture, but it’s fun. McWhorter is fun. Where do words like “well,” used as an interjection, come from? It’s the same with the online “lol.” English is an evolving and “literally” living, language. It changed, is changing and will change again. We have a lot of words which are no longer necessary for a variety of reasons but we use them out of habit. And we have a lot of new words from cyber to “lol.” Where did they come from and why? How is our language evolving and why?
And then there’s the business of vowels in English and how they’ve been pronounced at various times and places throughout. Vowels will make or break an accent or a word pronunciation. There’s been notable shift, or movement, and in almost predictable ways. Syllables also show movement in the language – the natural movement of old traditional ways of saying things to newer ways – how language changes. I suspect some of this is conjecture, but I’m not a linguist and it’s quite interesting.
And then there’s the simple creation of new words from old ones by compounding them or by reducing them, by associating them with other words. And then there’s the word “like” – from a similarity to “‘the room was taken, like a family had booked it already…'” or – “I answered the door and it was like … her!” Or there are other meanings to the word “like” because the language is changing – it’s on the move.
McWhorter has a very well-trained ear and a nice sense of humor and is a good advocate for going with the flow, not fighting the changes.