Summary and book reviews of Spell It Out by David Crystal

Spell It Out

The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling

by David Crystal

Spell It Out by David Crystal X
Spell It Out by David Crystal
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The fascinating and surprising history of English spelling from David Crystal, everyone's favorite expert logophile.

With The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal took us on a tour through the history of our language. Now, with Spell It Out, he takes on the task of answering all the questions about how we spell: "Why is English spelling so difficult?" Or "Why are good spellers so proud of their achievement that when they see a misspelling they condemn the writer as sloppy, lazy, or uneducated?"

In thirty-seven short, engaging and informative chapters, Crystal takes readers on a history of English spelling, starting with the Roman missionaries' sixth century introduction of the Roman alphabet and ending with where the language might be going. He looks individually at each letter in the alphabet and its origins. He considers the question of vowels and how people developed a way to tell whether or not it was long or short. He looks at influences from other cultures, and explains how English speakers understood that the "o" in "hopping" was a short vowel, rather than the long vowel of "hoping".

If you've ever asked yourself questions like "Why do the words "their", "there" and "they're" sound alike, but mean very different things?" or "How can we tell the difference between "charge" the verb and "charge" the noun?" David Crystal's Spell It Out will spell it all out for you.

Excerpt
Spell It Out

A,a

A has been the first letter of the alphabet for the whole of its history. Originally a consonant, aleph (meaning 'ox'), in the Semitic alphabet, it became the vowel alpha in Greek. The lower-case 'open a' is a development of the capital letter, with the addition of a left-facing loop at the top and a lowering of the cross-bar. The lower-case 'closed a' is an italic development from the medieval period.

B,b

B has been the second letter of the alphabet since Semitic times, a consonant whose name was beth (meaning 'house'). It emerged in the later Greek alphabet as a capital letter with a shape close to its modern form. The lowercase letter developed from a later style of handwriting consisting of simple rounded letter shapes.

C,c

C has been the third letter of the alphabet since Semitic times, developing its right-facing curve in the Latin alphabet. The lower-case letter is simply a smaller form of the ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

David Crystal's rich, useful, and fascinating survey of English spelling will change the way you think about language. But what really makes this book interesting is that Crystal makes English come alive and shows us that the language is not a fixed system set in stone by scholars.   (Reviewed by Jo Perry).

Full Review (634 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
We quite often talk, colloquially, about the written language having "evolved". As the linguist David Crystal's new book demonstrates with some panache, almost exactly the opposite took place.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. An entertaining mixture of erudition, attitude and wit that crackles, spits and sparkles.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

How the Word "Ghost" Got Its Spelling

David Crystal is a prolific scholar of linguistics who specializes in language pathology, phonetics, and linguistic disability.

What I admire most about Crystal's scholarship in Spell It Out is its humanity. He never loses sight of language as a form of human expression—whether through orthography or pronunciation.

Consider for example, the history of the word, "ghost":

"Why is there an h here? And in ghastly, aghast and the whole family of related words –– ghostly, ghostliness, ghastliness, ghostbusters and so on? It wasn't there when the word first came into English. In Anglo-Saxon England we find it used in the form gast, with a long 'ah' vowel...But there was no h in the Anglo-Saxon spelling: the Holy Ghost was a ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by David Crystal

If you liked Spell It Out, try these:

  • Babel jacket

    Babel

    by Gaston Dorren

    Published 2018

    About this book

    Witty, fascinating and utterly compelling, Babel will change the way you look at and listen to the world and how it speaks.

  • Alphabetical jacket

    Alphabetical

    by Michael Rosen

    Published 2016

    About this book

    Michael Rosen takes you on an unforgettable adventure through the history of the alphabet in twenty-six vivid chapters, fizzing with personal anecdotes and fascinating facts

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The World According to Fannie Davis
    The World According to Fannie Davis
    by Bridgett M. Davis
    Devoted daughter Bridgett M. Davis was always inspired by her mother Fannie, who provided stability,...
  • Book Jacket: Territory of Light
    Territory of Light
    by Yuko Tsushima
    Set in Tokyo during the late 1970s, Yūko Tsushima's Territory of Light chronicles a year in the...
  • Book Jacket: Unmarriageable
    Unmarriageable
    by Soniah Kamal
    Soniah Kamal makes no secret of the fact that her novel Unmarriageable is a retelling of Jane Austen...
  • Book Jacket: The Paragon Hotel
    The Paragon Hotel
    by Lyndsay Faye
    Lyndsay Faye's arresting The Paragon Hotel focuses on how disparate groups of marginalized people ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Becoming
by Michelle Obama

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Night Tiger
    by Yangsze Choo

    "Wonderfully combines a Holmes-esque plot with Chinese lore."
    --PW, starred review
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost Man
    by Jane Harper

    A stunning standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Cherokee America

Cherokee America
by Margaret Verble

An epic novel from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud's Line.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P C, Absolute P C A

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.