The Mother Tongue

by Bill Bryson

My goodreads review:
Bill Bryson, as always, covers his topic in an educational, but not dryly academic, manner. The book is easy and really enjoyable to read and full of so many facts and anecdotes that I don’t remember even half of them. He references his sources, so the reader can delve deeper into the topic if so desired, and, (I appreciate this) calls out when the tidbits and *facts* he’s sharing are a bit apocryphal.

Topics: the beginnings of language, the beginnings of English, pronunciation (old and new), spelling (old and new), accents and dialects, creoles and pidgins, English around the world, the present and future of English, &c.

Words I learned:
concomitant — accompanying especially in a subordinate or incidental way (Note: This is just one of those words that he uses a few times and I’ve heard several other places lately, so I hope to learn and remember its meaning.)
velleity — that “which describes a mild desire, a wish or urge too slight to lead to action” (Note: This word is not so much in common use.)
polysemy — the capacity for a word (or other signifier) to have multiple meanings (eg., boil = as in heat or skin ailment, policy = plan or in insurance policy, excise = to cut or customs duty)
contranym — a word that means the opposite of itself (eg., sanction = to permit or a measure forbidding, cleave = to separate or to cling to, sanguine = hotheaded or calm and secure, bolt = take off running or hold down, quinquennial = lasting 5 years or happening once every 5 years)
orthological — the art of correct grammar and correct use of words

and many more facts and words and concepts than I can begin to remember

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2 Responses to The Mother Tongue

  1. Adam says:

    So polysemy is a synonym for synonym?

    I really like the examples of contranyms, had never heard of those before but they are very cool.

  2. admin says:

    not quite — one word with multiple meanings vs one meaning with multiple words (synonyms)

    The contranym section was possibly my favorite part of the book. It had never dawned on my to consider how odd it is that those words (the ones I’d heard before anyway) meant two basically opposite things.

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