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TITLE

The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins

AUTHOR

Anne Curzan
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English is changing all around us. We see this in new words such as “bling” and “email,” and from the loss of old forms such as “shall.” It’s a human impulse to play with language and to create new words and meanings—but also to worry about the decay of language. Does text messaging signal the end of
“pure English”? Why do teenagers pepper their sentences with “like” and “you know”?

By studying how and why language changes and the story behind the everyday words in our lexicon, we can learn a lot about ourselves—how our minds work and how our culture has changed over the centuries.

Beyond this, words are enormously powerful. They can clarify or obscure the truth, set a political agenda, and drive commercial enterprises. They have the power to amuse and to hurt. They can connect us to each other or drive us apart. Sometimes words are unsayable, and other times words fail us completely because, for all the vibrancy and breadth of English, we still have major gaps in the lexicon.

In The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins, you’ll get a delightful, informative survey of English, from its Germanic origins to the rise of globalization and cyber-communications. Award-winning Professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan approaches the subject like an archaeologist, digging below the surface to uncover the story of words, from the humble “she” to such SAT words as “conflagration” and “pedimanous.”

All recent publications by Anne Curzan

  • How Conversation Works: 6 Lessons for Better Communication
  • The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins
  • Contours of English & English Language Studies (Tribute to Richard W. Bailey:)
  • First Day to Final Grade, Second Edition: A Graduate Student's Guide to Teaching
  • How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction (3rd Edition)
  • How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction

All publications by Anne Curzan

How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction, with Michael Adams (Pearson Longman, 3rd ed., 2012); First Day to Final Grade: A Graduate Student's Guide to Teaching, with Lisa Damour (University of Michigan Press, 3rd ed., 2011); Contours of English and English Language Studies (an edited volume; University of Michigan Press, 2011); Studies in the History of the English Language II: Unfolding Conversations (an edited volume; Mouton de Gruyter, 2004); Gender Shifts in the History of English (Cambridge University Press, 2003); "Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar," PMLA (2009); "Corpus-based Approaches to the History of English," The Blackwell Companion to the History of the English Language (2008); "Corpus Linguistics and Historical Linguistics:  Evidence of Language Change," The Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (Mouton de Gruyter, 2008); "The Importance of Historical Corpora, Reliability, and Reading," with Chris C. Palmer, Corpus-Based Studies in Diachronic English (Peter Lang, 2006); "Spelling Stories: A Way to Teach the History of English" & "Opening Dictionaries to Investigation," Language in the Schools (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005); "Addressing Ideologies arouind African American English," with Alicia Beckford Wassink, Journal of English Linguistics 32.3 (2004); "The Politics of Teaching Standard English," Journal of English Linguistics 30.4 (2002); "The End of Modern English?" American Speech 75.3 (2000); "Lexicography and Questions of Authority in the College Classroom," Dictionaries 2 (2000);"Historical Corpora in the Classroom," Journal of English Linguistics 28.1 (2000); "The Compass of the Vocabulary," Lexicography and the OED: Pioneers in the Untrodden Forest, (Oxford UP, 1999); "Gender Categories in Early English Grammars: Their Message to the Modern Grammarian," Gender in Grammar and Cognition, (Mouton de Gruyter, 1999); "Third-Person Pronouns in The Peterborough Chronicle," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 97.3 (1996).

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