Spell It Out: The Singular History of English Spelling

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David Crystal

  • Spell It Out
  • Spell It Out
    A unique journey through English spelling, untangling the fascinating origins of its greatest eccentricities.

336 pages
2013
ISBN: 9781846685682

Why is there an 'h' in ghost? William Caxton, inventor of the printing press and his Flemish employees are to blame: without a dictionary or style guide to hand in fifteenth century Bruges, the typesetters simply spelled it the way it sounded to their foreign ears, and it stuck. Seventy-five per cent of English spelling is regular but twenty-five per cent is complicated, and in Spell It Out our foremost linguistics expert David Crystal extends a helping hand to the confused and curious alike.

He unearths the stories behind the rogue words that confound us, and explains why these peculiarities entered the mainstream, in an epic journey taking in sixth century monks, French and Latin upstarts, the Industrial Revolution and the internet. By learning the history and the principles, Crystal shows how the spellings that break all the rules become easier to get right.

"Entertaining... Crystal's many examples show that the development of English spelling is as random, unsystematic and anomalous as the British constitution. English spelling is as rich a mixture of anachronism, privilege and fashion as the House of Lords."
- Sunday Times

"A prolific author... he can write with authority on trends in the spelling of rhubarb and indeed on the the history of the spelling of any tricky work you care to mention. For him, the patterns are clear... highly entertaining."
- The Observer