Posted by: suekenney | September 2, 2011

Final Analysis of The Adventure of English

Ah!  I finally finished The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg.  I must confess, it’s been a fascinating look into the history of English from its earliest beginnings on the English shores as a minor Germanic dialect, to its current position as a major player on the world stage.

I must also confess, I found Lord Bragg’s literary style a bit obtuse and confusing at times.  To me, it wasn’t always clear what he was talking about, and I might have to read something two or three times before I finally got it.  Part of that, I think, was the punctuation – not what I’m used to, I guess.  Commas where I didn’t expect them, no commas where I did expect them.

That being said, I still enjoyed the book very much, and can still highly recommend it as a lively, mostly understandable recount of the history (or as Lord Bragg puts it, the “biography”) of the English language.

Just from reading the book, I can tell that Lord Bragg is not an English “purist,” disdaining words from any source other than an Anglo-Saxon base.  He seems more than delighted with English’s flexibility and absorptive powers, and fascinated with the many ways English has grown and mutated over the centuries.  He discusses, among others, American English; Singlish (used in Singapore, a hodgepodge of English, Chinese, Malay, and others); Black English;  the South African blend of English and local words; and Text English.  He sees all of them as legitimate varieties of English, not substandard dialects.

Obviously he covered a vast range of topics, moving as he did from the fifth century to the twenty-first.  So many of those topics piqued my interest, giving me the desire to learn more:  the Norman Conquest; the Inkhorn Controversy; the standardization of English under Henry V; the Great Vowel Shift.  And the people!  William Caxton; William Tyndale; John Wycliffe; William Shakespeare; Samuel Johnson; Mark Twain; and so many more.  Each one played an important part in the development of English.

In his final chapter, he discusses where the English language is going now.  It’s still growing, of course.  Just look at some of the words he mentions have been recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):  bigorexia, clientelism, dischuffed, lookism, blog, clocker, and sizeist.  And here are some of the words in the queue waiting for final acceptance into the OED:  whitelist, Anglosphere, earworm, google, zorse.  I must admit, several of them are new to me …dischuffed?  Had to look it up, and now I can categorically say that I am very dischuffed with the political goings-on in Washington and in Albany, our state capital.

It is a good book, and I’m glad I read it.  Lord Bragg’s style was not my favorite, but I was able to get past that and receive much pleasure and education.  Good reading!


  1. […] Final Analysis of The Adventure of English ( […]

  2. I’m reading The Mysteries Of Udolpho right now and it’s like reading Greek (to me). Comma’s galore! But the challenge is a good one. Maybe I will finally stop saying “gnarly” unless to describe a tree!

    • Hope you enjoy the book. That’s one I haven’t read yet – maybe some day. Thanks for stopping by!

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