The Prodigal Tongue

Prodigal Tongue coverThe Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English
Lynne Murphy
Penguin Books (April 10, 2018), 368 pages
Kindle edition $8.99, Amazon paperback $11.55

Lynne Murphy is an expatriate American who lives and teaches in England. As such, she is acutely aware of the differences between British and American English. She makes very clear at the outset that she is not, however, interested in the superficial differences between the two forms of English, such as the difference in meaning of phrases like, “Shall I knock you up in the morning?” or of words such as truck vs. lorry.

Murphy really gets into the subtleties of the differences between the two forms of English, delving, for example, into whether the use of the subjunctive is more British or American. She points out that many words and phrases that the English consider Americanisms in fact have their origins in British English.

While there are many interesting passages in this book, such as her discussion of Noah Webster and his (highly successful) quest to Americanize English, some of the material is so arcane as to be downright boring, even to an avowed word nerd such as myself.

While much of the information is fascinating, to my mind had the book been cut by twenty-five percent it would have been far more readable and engaging.

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