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This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

The dictionary that revolutionized the face of American English

Over 50 years ago, in 1961, the most respected American publisher of dictionaries broke its own long, conservative tradition by coming up with a dictionary that added over 100,000 new words to the American English lexicon, decisively getting rid of “artificial notions of correctness” and basing proper usage of the language on how it was actually spoken. With G. & C. Merriam’s audacious decision to formally assimilate slang into the language, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary outraged academics and editorial writers alike and sparked what is now considered “the single greatest language controversy in American history.” 

Story of Ain't

The monumental ruckus created in language circles by the Webster’s Third is told with both erudition and verve by noted humanities writer and editor David Skinner in The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published (HarperCollins Publishers, 368 pages). In this eminently entertaining account of the controversy, Skinner shows how Philip Gove, the editor of Webster’s Third, set out to construct a modern, linguistically rigorous dictionary and how his critics—particularly the literary intellectual Dwight Macdonald who labeled the Webster’s Third’s abandonment of the old standard of usage as “the unraveling of civilization”—fiercely sought to destroy it.

In an advance review of Skinner’s The Story of Ain’t, bestselling author Simon Manchester says: “It takes true brilliance to lift the arid tellings of lexicographic fussing into the readable realm of the thriller and the bodice-ripper. With his riveting account…David Skinner has done precisely this, taking a fine story and honing it to popular perfection.”

Read David Skinner’s “Wars of Words: Dividing the world into prescriptivists and descriptivists” in now!

David Skinner is a writer on language and culture. He 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. Formerly a staff editor at the Weekly Standard, for which he still writes, and currently an editor of Doublethink magazine, Skinner has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New Atlantis, Slate, the Washington Times, and the American Spectator.

In “A Literal Epidemic of Crutch Words,” an article that came out in the September 13, 2012 issue of, Jen Doll says that we are living in the midst of a crutch word epidemic in which people are wont to throw around excessively—and often incorrectly or meaninglessly—such words and phrases as “as it were,” “actually,” “basically,” “um, like,” and “apparently.” She then presents a list and her droll analysis of her own hate-favorite crutch words, among them “and so forth and so on,” “absolutely,” “definitely,” “exponentially,” “fantastic,” “going forward,” and “It is what it is.”

Read Jen Doll’s “A Literal Epidemic of Crutch Words” in now!

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