Book Review: Origins of the specious by Patricia T. O’Conner


Author: Patricia T. O’Conner
Title: Origins of the specious : myths and misconceptions of the English language
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2009.
ISBN: 9781400066605

Summary/Review:  This is a great book about all those rules about English grammar, pronunciation and etymology.  Many of them are based on false premises such as 19th-century Latinists trying to make English fit the rules of Latin grammar.  Others thought to be long-time steadfast rules are actually recent innovations.  So go ahead and use “they” for both singular and plural just the same way we use “you.” If your pedant friend insists on Latin plurals for certain words tell them there’s a long history for “octopuses,” “stadiums,” and “forums” and that they’re perfectly acceptable.  And start a sentence with a conjunction, there’s no reason not to.   Nor is there any reason for not to boldly split those infinitives.  The best part of this book is that it recognizes the evolutionary and crowd-sourced aspect of language that is always changing.  It’s a democracy where everyone has but one vote and what is correct is what is best understood.  As O’Conner puts it “It’s better to be understood than to be correct.”

Recommended booksEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, and Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks

Rating: ***1/2

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