Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue


McWhorter is more interested in, as the subtitle puts it, “the untold history of English.” He points out that English has what he calls “kinks” in its grammar, qualities that are not shared by any of its relatives in the Germanic family of languages, but which do exist in a number of the Celtic ones, and questions why it is that these Celtic influences on English have gone unnoticed. I am frequently of the opinion that “untold histories” have remained untold for a very good reason, and it is testament to McWhorter’s persuasiveness that I took umbrage on behalf of Welsh and Cornish. McWhorter states that he has two lessons that he intends to get across. “First, there is nothing unique about English’s ‘openness’ to words from other languages.” And “second, there is no logical conception of ‘proper’ grammar as distinct from ‘bad’ grammar that people lapse into out of ignorance or laziness.” (“Grim little rules” like the one against using “they” as a ­gender-neutral singular pronoun, he writes, make no sense — hey, Shakespeare did it — but laymen cling to it “like Linus to his blanket.”)

more from the NY Times here.