Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling by David Wolman

Books Completed: 17
Completion Date: January, 2009
Pages: 224
Publication Date: September 29, 2008

Reason for Reading: Received from Publisher. TBR Challenge 2009. New Author Challenge.

Righting the Mother Tongue tells the cockamamie story of English spelling. When did ghost acquire its silent 'h'? Will cyberspace kill the one in rhubarb? And was it really rocket scientists who invented spell-check?

Seeking to untangle the twisted story of English spelling, David Wolman takes us on a wordly adventure from English battlefields to Google headquarters. Along the way, he pickets with spelling reformers outside the national spelling bee, visits the town in Belgium, not England, where the first English books were printed, and takes a road-trip with the boss at Merriam-Webster Inc. The journey is punctuated by spelling battles waged by the likes of Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie and the members of today's Simplified Spelling Society.

Rich with history, pop culture, curiosity and humor, Righting the Mother Tongue explores how English spelling came to be, traces efforts to mend the code and imagines the shape of tomorrow's words.

First things first. Yes, I know we were supposed to read a category romance, but I never read category romance, so this is going to have to do! Secondly, I know that I only got this book in 2009, but that is because the copy I was supposed to get in 2008 never made it to me, so I had to wait to have it sent again! And, lastly, I am so way later with this review than I meant to be, but it is still in time...

This book was really interesting! I am an English major, so the English language interests me as both a reader and a student (even if I have graduated). My boyfriend is always saying that it is because of the technology today that people cannot spell. I found it really interesting to read this book, where that topic was looked at, as long as a lot of other spelling ideas. It is kind of interesting. Before I went to university my friends called me a spelling Nazi, but I have got so slack in later years. When I started this blog I was still in university, and I used it to be casual because I had to be perfect all the time! I rarely reread what I wrote, and believe me, it shows! (I try to do better now, but it is still normally a hasty attempt at the English language!) I do use complete sentences when I send text messages or IM's, though... What about you folks?

This book is in many ways the history of spelling. The English language is rather complicated, in case people haven't noticed, so it was interesting to read about the evolution of it. He also talks about people that advocate for a simpler form of spelling. There were examples, and they actually made my head hurt! They might be the words 'correctly' sounded out, but I have read so much over the years that I just read. In many ways my mind just assumes the word and only pauses when I come across a word that is not in my normal vocabulary. So, I don't know if I could handle changes to spelling... As complicated as it is, I can get by! When I actually put my mind to it, I can spell and use grammar quite well!

I do recommend this book. It was really interesting and written in a fun way. It wasn't dry, or at least, I didn't find it dry. I especially enjoyed the history lessons, because history has always been a hobby of mine. He even talks about the creation of spell-check and the advantages and disadvantages of it. I know that I love spell-check. It is not necessarily for spelling mistakes for me, though; it is really more for the typos that I might not notice otherwise! While not perfect, it is helpful!

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site


  1. This does sound like a fun book to read--informative and entertaining. I had never heard of it before, and I'm so glad you pointed it out. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Anonymous4:50 AM

    I followed the link to your blog from Keishon's TBR Challenge. :)

    Even though English is not my first language, I like books about the English language. Or maybe it is because of that!? Anyway, interesting review and book, thanks.

  3. Sounds interesting. I'm a bit of a spelling Nazi too. I hate it when words are spelt wrong on signs or in the newspaper, and I especially hate it when Canadians use American spelling. American spelling in Canada drives me absolutely bonkers!

  4. Literary Feline: It was an interesting book. I hope you get a chance to read it!

    Taja: I think even if English isn't your first language you will find this book interesting.

    Nicola: I hate American spelling in Canada, too, but we actually have reached a point where we use more American than European spelling. I learned that in the two books I read on the English language lately.

  5. Thanks, Kailana! This sounds like a book I would probably enjoy quite a bit.

  6. This does sound extremely interesting! I'm a bit of a linguistics geek, so I just love stuff like this.

  7. Debi and Nymeth: It was really interesting! I hope you get a chance to read it!

  8. Another one for my wishlist - this looks awesome. I enjoy reading books about language, I read an essay once about how people would be more intelligent if words were spelled phonetically, but I don't think I'd like that much.

  9. I'd not heard of this one but I think it'd be a fun read. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review!

  10. Joanne: Well, like I said in the review, there were example of phonetically spelled words and even sentences and I found that I had to stop and think, whereas with the way we regularly spell, I just can read and not really think about it.

    Iliana: It was very interesting! I only heard of it rather by accident and knew that I had to read it.

  11. This one sounds really interesting. I'm adding it to my wishlist!

  12. I hope you get a chance to read it, Kate, it was really quite interesting!

  13. This sounds interesting, I'm a bit of a spelling Nazi too I just have to correct things if I see words spelt wrong!

  14. Anonymous9:45 AM

    I am adding this to my TBR list immediately! It sounds like a lot of fun.

  15. Clare: Well, the guy that wrote this book isn't exactly a spelling Nazi, so I will be interested to see what you think about it.

    Court: I don't know about fun, but it was a worthwhile read.

  16. I love books with English as the subject! Well, I love *buying* them, anyway. I admit to having a lot on my shelves that I haven't read yet. One that you might be interested in is called The Evolution of Language, which sounds fascinating (I'll let you know my thoughts, if I ever get around to reading it).

  17. Aarti: First of all, it's been forever since you commented on my blog! Hi! I will add The Evolution of Language to my wish list. Thanks for the recommendation! This book was interesting, though. I hope you get a chance to not just collect it, but read it.


Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I am so sorry, but I turned anonymous commenting off. I have had it from the very beginning, but that is how the spam is getting by my spam filter at the moment. If it is a big deal I will turn it back on and moderate all comments. I also changed moderation from older than 14 days to older than 7.