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The Story of Ain't: Book summary and reviews of The Story of Ain't by David Skinner

The Story of Ain't

America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

by David Skinner

The Story of Ain't

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Book Summary

Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by the editor Philip Gove, Webster's Third broke with tradition, adding thousands of new words and eliminating "artificial notions of correctness," basing proper usage on how language was actually spoken. The dictionary's revolutionary style sparked what David Foster Wallace called "the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars." Editors and scholars howled for Gove's blood, calling him an enemy of clear thinking, a great relativist who was trying to sweep the English language into chaos. Critics bayed at the dictionary's permissive handling of ain't. Literary intellectuals such as Dwight Macdonald believed the dictionary's scientific approach to language and its abandonment of the old standard of usage represented the unraveling of civilization.

Entertaining and erudite, The Story of Ain't describes a great societal metamorphosis, tracing the fallout of the world wars, the rise of an educated middle class, and the emergence of America as the undisputed leader of the free world, and illuminating how those forces shaped our language. Never before or since has a dictionary so embodied the cultural transformation of the United States.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [A] rich and absorbing exploration of the changing standards in American language and culture." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. A compelling reminder of the cultural significance of words and word-making." - Booklist

"[F]lits among topics and spends endless pages on the life story of Dwight Macdonald, the critic who wrote a long, damning account of W3 in The New Yorker - the book is as much about Macdonald as anything else." - Library Journal

"Perhaps too much Macdonald and not enough logo-geekery, but a well-researched, even loving, look at our language and its landlords." - Kirkus Reviews

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More Information

More Information

David Skinner is a writer and editor living in Alexandria, Virginia. He writes about language, culture, and his life as a husband, father, and suburbanite. He has been a staff editor at the Weekly Standard, for which he still writes, and an editor of Doublethink magazine. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New Atlantis, Slate, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, and many other publications. Skinner is the editor of Humanities magazine, which is published by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary.

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