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Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

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In Made in America, Bill Bryson de-mythologizes his native land, explaining how a dusty hamlet with neither woods nor holly became Hollywood; how the Wild West wasn't won; why Americans say "lootenant" and "Toosday"; and exactly why Mr. Yankee Doodle called his feathered cap "Macaroni."


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In Made in America, Bill Bryson de-mythologizes his native land, explaining how a dusty hamlet with neither woods nor holly became Hollywood; how the Wild West wasn't won; why Americans say "lootenant" and "Toosday"; and exactly why Mr. Yankee Doodle called his feathered cap "Macaroni."

30 review for Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Bill Bryson is like the Abba of books. Everyone, your granny and your kid's teacher and your babysitter, and your mum's friends, everybody has a couple they really like and they probably have Bill Bryson's Greatest Hits on the cd shelf too. Safest present to give to someone you know very little about : a Bill Bryson book. Oh, everyone loves him Didn't he do Dancing Queen? We danced to Notes from a Small Island at our wedding. Oh did you - A Short History of Nearly Everything was "our book". I'm Bill Bryson is like the Abba of books. Everyone, your granny and your kid's teacher and your babysitter, and your mum's friends, everybody has a couple they really like and they probably have Bill Bryson's Greatest Hits on the cd shelf too. Safest present to give to someone you know very little about : a Bill Bryson book. Oh, everyone loves him Didn't he do Dancing Queen? We danced to Notes from a Small Island at our wedding. Oh did you - A Short History of Nearly Everything was "our book". I'm in the middle of reading Knowing Me Knowing You (A Ha!) - they're so funny. And those two Bills they've got singing, well, I really fancy the blonde one. So if you get my hand in a vice and start turning the handle then I'll admit between gritted teeth that Bill can write some tuneful melodies and Abba are occasionally amusing. There. Now can I have my hand back. gimme gimme gimme something bland after midnight Now... you may think I'm joking but look here:

  2. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X

    I'm up to Benjamin Franklin and frankly Ben, I've had enough of you and this book. I usually like Bryson's writing style, but the fruity self-congratulatory tone of this is irritating. Also, I think if you are an American you might be a great deal more interested in the entire of history of America as experienced by European settlers than I am. No 'might' about it, of course you are, its your country. Me, sorry, but I couldn't care less. Does that sound almost sacrilegious to you? Ask yourself th I'm up to Benjamin Franklin and frankly Ben, I've had enough of you and this book. I usually like Bryson's writing style, but the fruity self-congratulatory tone of this is irritating. Also, I think if you are an American you might be a great deal more interested in the entire of history of America as experienced by European settlers than I am. No 'might' about it, of course you are, its your country. Me, sorry, but I couldn't care less. Does that sound almost sacrilegious to you? Ask yourself this, what interest do you have in Caribbean history (somewhat, but not entirely, boring) or worse, much worse, Welsh history, since its not exactly a history of a get-up-and-go people who Did Great Things (they liked to sing a lot and annoy the English essentially). Now I like history, I do, especially books by people like Liza Picard and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, but they tend to keep politicians out of it. Nothing bores like reading political squabbles, at least to me. Also, the Indians, in whom I have a major interest as all I know about them is war, ceremonies and their problems with alcohol and success with gambling, are dismissed by Bryson with just a little about their linguistic contribution to American English. I'm not saying its not a good book, I've never read a bad Bryson one, but its just plain boring to me and life is too short and books too many to bother finishing it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    Bryson’s Made In America is a usually fascinating but sometimes overwhelming conversation about the manner in which language has evolved in the United States over the last couple hundred years. If you imagine a guy at the end of the bar who knows way too much about a particular subject and, while he shares quite a few compelling and memorable facts with you over the course of an evening, eventually you forget them all because there are so goddamn many that you just want the guy to be quiet for a Bryson’s Made In America is a usually fascinating but sometimes overwhelming conversation about the manner in which language has evolved in the United States over the last couple hundred years. If you imagine a guy at the end of the bar who knows way too much about a particular subject and, while he shares quite a few compelling and memorable facts with you over the course of an evening, eventually you forget them all because there are so goddamn many that you just want the guy to be quiet for a second so you can take it all in and sip your beer, well, you have this book. Bryson’s research skills shine in this book. He cites his sources constantly and his transitions from one subject to the next work more often than not. He would be the first to admit that his perspective (for example, in the influence of “politically correct” mindsets on language) is more editorial than reporting; at the same time, he doesn’t apologize (and I don’t think he should) for his point of view. Bryson also provides, whether he planned to do so or not, a short-form American history lesson through his efforts to contextualize the language’s changes and how/why they came to fruition. I could probably have used fifty fewer pages (I didn’t need as much on the space program or car companies). Still, I’d read more Bryson (this is his third title on my “read” shelf, I believe) and I’d recommend Made in America to someone looking for an intensive, if somewhat random, analysis of English in the United States. He’s a little dry, a little nerdy, but, well, I’d rather get drunk with Bryson then, say, a heroin addict talking about smack dealers or an earnest poet waiting for me to ask him to read his verse. You know what I mean.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane in Australia

    I thought I never would finish this book! It took me forever, and a day! It just dragged, and was boring. Bill took what could have been an interesting topic, and killed it. I'm beginning to think I'm not a Bill Bryson fan. 2 Stars = Blah. It didn't do anything for me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Rachel

    I am such a nerd! Why else would I find a book about "words" more exciting than "The Bourne Identity" or "Hunt For Red October". Then again, in my defense and to give enormous credit where it is due ... 1) I am a writer and words are everything to my trade, and 2) Bill Bryson brings such a fascinating and encyclopedic knowledge not just of etymology but a sensitivity to the historical and cultural environment within which language develops and evolves. His anecdotes are both engaging and informa I am such a nerd! Why else would I find a book about "words" more exciting than "The Bourne Identity" or "Hunt For Red October". Then again, in my defense and to give enormous credit where it is due ... 1) I am a writer and words are everything to my trade, and 2) Bill Bryson brings such a fascinating and encyclopedic knowledge not just of etymology but a sensitivity to the historical and cultural environment within which language develops and evolves. His anecdotes are both engaging and informative. But beyond that appealing surface level of his presentation is the smart and insightful perspective he brings to any subject he chooses to address.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Negin

    This was thoroughly researched and full of trivia-type facts of U.S. history and the evolution of words in American English. Much of these facts were fascinating, but then the book got boring. Maybe it was the layout and the way that all the facts were organized. I can’t really tell. This being Bill Bryson, well, I guess that I wanted to like it much more than I did. I definitely prefer his travelogues, which are among my favorite books ever.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    WARNING: THIS REVIEW STOOPS TO LOW GIMMICKRY! Specifically, the reader is invited to imagine a conversation between two reviewers, both of whom live inside my head. As will become evident, one is infinitely more crotchety than the other, possibly to the extent of bloody-mindedness. To keep guesswork to a minimum, I will alternate between regular and italic fonts. This exploration of American English by Bill Bryson contains a wealth of entertaining anecdotal material that is unfortunately often bu WARNING: THIS REVIEW STOOPS TO LOW GIMMICKRY! Specifically, the reader is invited to imagine a conversation between two reviewers, both of whom live inside my head. As will become evident, one is infinitely more crotchety than the other, possibly to the extent of bloody-mindedness. To keep guesswork to a minimum, I will alternate between regular and italic fonts. This exploration of American English by Bill Bryson contains a wealth of entertaining anecdotal material that is unfortunately often buried in a welter of undisciplined, self-indulgent blather, expressed in breathless, eighth-grade level prose that cries out to be edited and brought under control. In considering the development of the language in the U.S., Bryson casts a wide net, with the first nine chapters covering various stages of American history from the Mayflower to the various waves of immigration that characterized the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "Casts a wide net" is a good one. To say that this book is 'about' American English is a bit like saying "A Tale of two Cities" is 'about' knitting. Subsequent chapters are organized thematically, dealing with such subjects as shopping, travel, advertising, eating, sports, the movies, sex, politics and war, and the state of American English at the time the book was written (the mid 1990s). It seems fair to say that the author's scholarship is characterized more by the breadth of his curiosity than its depth. Isn't that just another way of saying that sloppiness abounds in this dog's breakfast of a book? That seems a little harsh. Sure, his style is sometimes a bit discursive, and the author has a fondness for tangents... 'Discursive' is an understatement. Whole chunks of this book give you the feeling of being stuck in an airplane next to a garrulous midwestern drunk with an unending supply of anecdotes and no sense of pacing. (to be continued)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I will admit that I didn't actually finish this book, but by 3/4 of the way through, I was totally bored with it. The first few chapters of this book were actually interesting in that they discusses the way that the first settlers in American spoke, how that gradually began to differ from the way people spoke in English and how different it is from modern American speech. However, after these sections, the book simply introduced a historical period or a new technology and basically listed the wo I will admit that I didn't actually finish this book, but by 3/4 of the way through, I was totally bored with it. The first few chapters of this book were actually interesting in that they discusses the way that the first settlers in American spoke, how that gradually began to differ from the way people spoke in English and how different it is from modern American speech. However, after these sections, the book simply introduced a historical period or a new technology and basically listed the words that entered our language because of it. I found this to be repetitive and quite dull. While Bryson attempted to make this more interesting by adding anecdotes about the people of the historical period that he was dealing with, these anecdotes seemed only tangentially related to the subject matter of the book; at times it seemed to me that Bryson had completely forgotten that he was writing a book on language.

  9. 5 out of 5

    W

    Another fun read,this time on the evolution of American English,full of interesting background information.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    Funny, interesting and informative. One fact that sticks with me is that every town in America had its own time until the railroad decided clock time needed to be standardized. What that has to do with American English I don't remember, but that's how Bryson's writing is--there are lots of fascinating side stories.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lars Guthrie

    What bothered me in "The Mother Tongue" was more irritating in this companion piece: the laundry lists of words categorized in catch-all bins. Exhausting for this reader. Also, this time, Bryson's blithe and breezy commentary seemed less witty and more shallow. He appears determined to shoot down myths of American cultural history, but looking at the footnotes, the research is weak. One example: Bryson dismisses Zane Grey as "a New York dentist who knew almost nothing of the West but refused to What bothered me in "The Mother Tongue" was more irritating in this companion piece: the laundry lists of words categorized in catch-all bins. Exhausting for this reader. Also, this time, Bryson's blithe and breezy commentary seemed less witty and more shallow. He appears determined to shoot down myths of American cultural history, but looking at the footnotes, the research is weak. One example: Bryson dismisses Zane Grey as "a New York dentist who knew almost nothing of the West but refused to let that get in the way of a good tale." I've read Grey's accounts of his cougar hunting trips into the Grand Canyon and visited the recreation of his cabin on the Mongollon Rim in Payson, Arizona, so I knew that isn't really true. A cursory investigation would have changed Bryson's judgment, but it wouldn't have been as amusing. Nevertheless, Bryson is amusing and entertaining.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    From the author who consistently manages to write the exact sort of nonfiction I enjoy comes a history of American, that very specific form of linguistic mutilation bestowed upon proper English by our fair nation. This isn't just a linguistic study though, this is very much an American history book told from a perspective of a linguist and/or etymologist. While American history doesn't interest me all that much (which didn't preclude me from learning about as much as a person can about it throug From the author who consistently manages to write the exact sort of nonfiction I enjoy comes a history of American, that very specific form of linguistic mutilation bestowed upon proper English by our fair nation. This isn't just a linguistic study though, this is very much an American history book told from a perspective of a linguist and/or etymologist. While American history doesn't interest me all that much (which didn't preclude me from learning about as much as a person can about it through books, after all it's only 500some years to cover), in one or more parallel universes I'm probably some sort of linguist/etymologist, so from that perspective the book was fascinating and positively crammed with information in Bryson's inimitable anecdotal style. He's also inimitably something of a crank (though notably less so in this book) and a man who is always right, but so be it, if that's the price of a admittedly one sided discourse with an intelligent and funny person, it's worth it. It's even worth the time and this book took hours and hours, densely populated with facts and figures and opinions. The book is strikingly patriotic (particularly for a man who spent so long living abroad or maybe precisely due to it), specifically at some point where the story turns to how rude Europeans found Americans it quite deliberately and tellingly turns to praising American innovations of the time, as if technology ever made for good manners. It also speaks quite highly of the American education system, even high school one, which from personal experience leaves much to be desired, although it doesn't make light of the quite dire lack of literacy found statistically across the nation and particularly in the South. Overall, it's a very progressive, informative and diverting look at the history of a nation through word colored lenses and a compelling look at how progress defines language and, occasionally, language restricts progress. Bryson has many kind things to say about immigrants and their contribution to the our society, linguistically and economically among other things, which is all the more poignant to read about in 2017. The book was published 22 years ago (its old enough to drink book ale) and I can't help but wish Bryson would revisit it adding some chapters for the subsequent years, utilizing modern neologisms, maybe even addressing the gender neutrality so prevalent nowadays and all the modern political nuances. Mind you, it isn't dated so much as it just doesn't have the up to date information. Learning should be entertaining and this book achieves that goal awesomely, it's highly educational and very amusing with its multiple tangents and digressions. I've learned a good amount, let's see how much of it sticks in memory. Amateur armchair historians and linguists should enjoy this greatly. Recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Although I don’t live in America, it is obvious that they have had a big influence on the English language. Bill Bryson’s ‘Made In America’ explores the history of America and the effects it had on the language. I found the most interesting parts to do with censorship in America, from titbit becoming tidbit, cockroach becoming roach and to the extreme case of political correction which wanted to stop the use of terms like blackeye and blacksmith (but interestingly enough, not blackout). I feel I Although I don’t live in America, it is obvious that they have had a big influence on the English language. Bill Bryson’s ‘Made In America’ explores the history of America and the effects it had on the language. I found the most interesting parts to do with censorship in America, from titbit becoming tidbit, cockroach becoming roach and to the extreme case of political correction which wanted to stop the use of terms like blackeye and blacksmith (but interestingly enough, not blackout). I feel I’ve gained some valuable insight into why American English is different to the commonly used Queens’ English, while getting a history into commonly used terms. Bill Bryson writes in such a way that it makes this book easy to read and at times humorous, which I feel is what you want in a Non Fiction book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Niranjan M

    This is one of those books that takes you quite a while to read, but not because its slow. The information contained in the 400-odd pages is simply too much to digest in one go. Bryson takes us from the 1500s till the early 1990s, taking us through each and every American thing there is in between. Funny thing is, this is meant to be a book on the evolution of American English, but it is also one about history. I learnt more about American history, or rather, what made America what it is today, This is one of those books that takes you quite a while to read, but not because its slow. The information contained in the 400-odd pages is simply too much to digest in one go. Bryson takes us from the 1500s till the early 1990s, taking us through each and every American thing there is in between. Funny thing is, this is meant to be a book on the evolution of American English, but it is also one about history. I learnt more about American history, or rather, what made America what it is today, from this book than from any other I've read previously. This is a must-read for everyone Period.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Annk

    I love Bill Bryson. His narratives are rich with cultural tidbits and historical wonders. Unfortunately, this book crawled. I felt like I was on a car ride with my favorite uncle who told a bunch of amusing anecdotes that were amusing when we were just on the way to the beach, but became insufferable on a long, cross-country drive. Good in small doses. The tidbits are great. But boy, it was hard to stick with this one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarina M

    Another wonderful Bryson book. I simply adore his writing style. His books are like candy. The one detraction from this book is the length. I wish that this was a history of the US, instead of a history of the English language in the US. Some of the etymology is truly interesting, but the long lists of words and fixation of spelling variances throughout history are tedious. If this was taken out (or slimmed down) it would be a much better book. Even so, this is a really enjoyable book as underne Another wonderful Bryson book. I simply adore his writing style. His books are like candy. The one detraction from this book is the length. I wish that this was a history of the US, instead of a history of the English language in the US. Some of the etymology is truly interesting, but the long lists of words and fixation of spelling variances throughout history are tedious. If this was taken out (or slimmed down) it would be a much better book. Even so, this is a really enjoyable book as underneath is a wonderfully comprehensive history of the United States and the Americas.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    Oh my gosh I finally finished this book. It’s not that it was a bad book. It actually was quite informative and entertaining. I have read many Bryson books and I know he is a detailed guy but this book was the king of detail. Kind of a slog at times. Lots of cool facts though, if only I could remember them.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

    Fascinating. I loved it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Guy

    Much, MUCH, MUCH more than a history of the English language in America! Bryson with magical and funny writing links the evolution of language with the evolution of culture, science, recreation, food, politics. His controversial or almost heretical debunkings of accepted history are supported with an extensive bibliography of the sources. The debunking is endless! Barely a page was turned that didn't leave me amazed at how much I don't know, and just how far away from documented history is th Much, MUCH, MUCH more than a history of the English language in America! Bryson with magical and funny writing links the evolution of language with the evolution of culture, science, recreation, food, politics. His controversial or almost heretical debunkings of accepted history are supported with an extensive bibliography of the sources. The debunking is endless! Barely a page was turned that didn't leave me amazed at how much I don't know, and just how far away from documented history is the accepted and taught history of just about every aspect of the Europeans' settlement of the 'new' world. About the only thing somewhat factually correct about the white man's settlement of North America is that Europeans came and decimated and displaced the natives. As an example, one of the unknown reasons that the Natives were able to help the first American settlers was that one of them spoke very good English. That synopsis does Bryson's writing a severe injustice, so here is his (slightly abbreviated) telling: "... Before long, as every [American] schoolchild knows, the Pilgrims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cordial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand. "A question that naturally arises is how they managed this. Algonquian, the language of the eastern tribes, is an extraordinarily complex and agglomerative tongue... full of formidable consonant clusters that are all but unpronounceable by the untutored... "...The answer, surprisingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn't have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English — Samoset only a litte, but Squanto with total assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain.) (4) I also learned that the so-called Christian purity that, amongst other things, has been accused of distorting American English into using euphemism in place of body part words, originally spoke sexually explicit language enough to make fans of Playboy blush. And, even more astonishing, that the Puritans actively encouraged premarital sex in the 18th century as an accepted method of testing physical compatibility. "Sex among the Puritans was considered as natural as eating, and was discussed about as casually, to the extent that, the historian David Fischer writes, 'the writings of the Puritans required heavy editing before they were thought fit to print even in the mid-twentieth century.' Premarital intercourse was not just tolerated but was effectively encouraged. Couples who intended to marry could take out something called a pre-contract — in effect, a license to have sex. It was the Puritans, too, who refined the intriguing custom of bundling, or tarrying as it was also often called, in which a courting pair were invited to climb into bed together... "As one seventeenth-century observer explained it: 'When a man is enamoured of a young women, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents; if they have no objections they allow him to tarry the night with her, in order to make his court with her. After the young ones have sat up as long as they think proper, they get into bed together, also without pulling of their undergarments in order to prevent scandal. If the parties agree it is all very well; the banns are published and they are married without delay. If not they part, and possibly never see each other again; unless, which is an accident that seldom happens, the forsaken fair proves pregnant, and then the man is obliged to marry her.' ... "Although never expressly countenanced, fornication was so common in Puritan New England that at least one parish had forms printed up in which the guilty parties could confess by filling in their names and paying a small fine... "(305-6). Bryson defrocks most of Kroc's reputed claims to fame, critically examines myths around the evils of immigrants, suggests that one of the best living examples of how 'real' English may have been spoken is to listen to Yosemite Sam, points out that the famous 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' was in fact the miss-heard version of 'That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.' Bryson also wades into the issue of politically correct language with intelligence, diplomacy, and razor sharp observations — and, of course, humour. This books re-affirms the vivifying joy and beauty and aliveness of the English language. A gem of a book, and one I will now go out and buy.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    Considering how crucial it is to our every day lives, we know precious little about language. Where certain words come from, why they are used in specific ways, etc. Take "OK" for instance--the most famous English phrase in the world, and perhaps American English's most lasting and pervasive contribution to English usage ever--and no one knows exactly where it came from. There are ideas, of course, ranging from a 19th century campaign slogan to a possible West African origin via slavery. But ast Considering how crucial it is to our every day lives, we know precious little about language. Where certain words come from, why they are used in specific ways, etc. Take "OK" for instance--the most famous English phrase in the world, and perhaps American English's most lasting and pervasive contribution to English usage ever--and no one knows exactly where it came from. There are ideas, of course, ranging from a 19th century campaign slogan to a possible West African origin via slavery. But astonishingly, we don't really know. This is remarkable given how strongly people feel about language and words, and how to use them. I admit to being irritated when someone mixes up their/there/they're, for example, but the fury with which some descend on others for "getting it wrong" when it comes to English seems to assume a unity, permanence, and linearity, that quite frankly has never existed. Take this passage from the book, which I found to be one of the most interesting as an example of this: "One of the more breathtakingly complex of these early adaptations was maroon. In the sense of being stranded, it began life as the Spanish cimarron (literally 'one who lives on the mountaintops'), and originally signified a fugitive slave in the West Indies. Then it came to mean the offspring of such a slave. Finally it evolved into the sense of suffering abandonment. (The Spanish also applied cimarron to a tribe of Muskhogean Indians, the ones we know as Seminoles, from which comes the name of the Cimarron River.) In the meantime, the French had picked up cimarron and changed it to marron, their word for chestnut, and it then passed into English as maroon, with two quite separate meanings--a chestnutlike color and the act of being abandoned. By such convoluted means do languages sometimes grow." English, being a complicated mish-mash of various languages and ultimately most closely related to German, is weird and inconsistent. American English is especially so, given the strong role immigrants have played in our history. This can be a source of both frustration and delight. I find it to be more the latter; little anecdotes like the following are a case in point: "limousine" comes from a coat worn by shepherds in Limousin, France, because that same coat was favored by early chauffeurs. Why? Because the driver's seat on the first such vehicles were open-air. So you have a type of luxury vehicle named for a coat, worn by shepherds in another country, then worn by drivers, who no longer wear such coats today. Maybe this doesn't impress you, and I suppose in the long run knowing such facts is of little practical value. Outside of idle dinner-talk, designed to momentarily awe your friends for all of two seconds with your intellect, what good does learning about this sort of thing do? Again, nothing directly. But each tiny fact is like a piece of a puzzle. Once you put them together you have a grander view of things, and in this case it's the very means by which you communicate.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Houghton

    3 Stars - Good The Premise Bill Bryson takes a trip through the history of America in an attempt to identify and explain some of the origins and peculiarities behind phrases and popular words. Pros and Cons Positives: - The book is well structured and follows a winding path through the american vocabulary, using a good range of themes to guide the reader through the development of the American language. - Where this book excels is when it combines rich explanations of certain vocabulary with a brief r 3 Stars - Good The Premise Bill Bryson takes a trip through the history of America in an attempt to identify and explain some of the origins and peculiarities behind phrases and popular words. Pros and Cons Positives: - The book is well structured and follows a winding path through the american vocabulary, using a good range of themes to guide the reader through the development of the American language. - Where this book excels is when it combines rich explanations of certain vocabulary with a brief rundown of America's history, where Bryson can begin to inject some of his more usual witty writing style. Negatives: - Bryson's usually chatty style is severely restricted due to the nature of the book. Sometimes the chapter devolves into long lists of words and dates which while brief, I found myself skipping over. - This in turn results to some rather dry sections, especially when the origins of words are uncertain. - This book could have been a good 50-100 pages shorter in my opinion, some of the sections feel drawn out to try and balance the book between older and more modern words, but ultimately results in a bit of a slog through some parts. Overall In conclusion 'Made in America' is an interesting, well structured look at some of America's stranger terminology. Some sections glow with Bryson's trademark witty approach and explore some really interesting themes and origins. However by design, the book sometimes falls into a pit of lists and only partially interesting anecdotes, which is punished by the strange weighting of some of the chapters. In all I would recommend this book to those with an interest in American history and the american dialect. However don't be afraid to skip parts!

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a hugely entertaining book, with more bits of trivia than you can shake a stick at. The subtitle is An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. While the subject of language fills up about half of the book, the other half is not really about language at all; it is a collection of anecdotes about American history. Bryson blends the subjects of language and history together rather well, but it sometimes seems like the same strategy that various TV dramas use nowadays; This is a hugely entertaining book, with more bits of trivia than you can shake a stick at. The subtitle is An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. While the subject of language fills up about half of the book, the other half is not really about language at all; it is a collection of anecdotes about American history. Bryson blends the subjects of language and history together rather well, but it sometimes seems like the same strategy that various TV dramas use nowadays; multiple plots running simultaneously. This strategy helps to keep people with short attention spans engaged, and it may be necessary for the average TV viewer--but is it really necessary for a well-documented, well-written book? Probably not, but it does help keep up the book's momentum from slowing down. I did learn all sorts of amazing things; jumbo jets are named after a famous elephant! The Smithsonian Institution did not recognize the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers until 1942! Shopping carts were first introduced into a grocery store in Oklahoma City in 1936; customers were reluctant to use them, so the manager hired people to push the shopping carts around, pretending to shop! Every page of this book is dripping with these interesting tidbits that will keep you talking at your next cocktail party.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    You’d think a history of Americanisms would be dry and dull but that’s not the case at all. Bryson keeps the tone light and entertaining with lots of anecdotes about the evolution of the English language in America. It’s the perfect companion to The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. They even share this striking quote from the 1815 North American Review, “How tame will his language sound, who would describe Niagara in language fitted for the falls You’d think a history of Americanisms would be dry and dull but that’s not the case at all. Bryson keeps the tone light and entertaining with lots of anecdotes about the evolution of the English language in America. It’s the perfect companion to The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. They even share this striking quote from the 1815 North American Review, “How tame will his language sound, who would describe Niagara in language fitted for the falls at London bridge, or attempt the majesty of the Mississippi in that which was made for the Thames?” I was surprised that this didn’t feel very dated even though it was first published in 1994, and I found the last chapter, which included Bryson’s opinions about the bias-free language movement, to be the most thought provoking part of the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    As much as I love Bill Bryson's writing, I found it reeeeeeeeeally difficult to get through "Made in America." I learned a lot of interesting facts and the book did clear up some misconceptions I had, but it didn't make up for the fact that some of the sections in this book were incredibly boring. I know that the book was primarily supposed to be about the origins of everyday words and phrases, but sometimes it felt like Bryson went a bit overboard. It felt like I was reading a dictionary, and h As much as I love Bill Bryson's writing, I found it reeeeeeeeeally difficult to get through "Made in America." I learned a lot of interesting facts and the book did clear up some misconceptions I had, but it didn't make up for the fact that some of the sections in this book were incredibly boring. I know that the book was primarily supposed to be about the origins of everyday words and phrases, but sometimes it felt like Bryson went a bit overboard. It felt like I was reading a dictionary, and had I known it was going to be that way, I probably would not have bothered reading it in the first place.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    The first book by Bryson that I read - and I loved it immediately. The author takes us on a guided tour through American history to show us the stories behind great national institutions such as Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Coca Cola. Recommended for all lovers of quirky historical information.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I love this man's ability to observe human behavior and cultural differences and tell it all in a way that is funny, endearing and gives us a feeling of connectedness no matter where we live.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David

    This was a fascinating read. The main factor to this was the author's occasional snarky sense of humour, particularly when referencing America's history of bad Indian name appropriations. Chapters on inventors, attitudes towards sex and cinema also paint quite a picture. How incomprehensible old English would be to current speakers is also staggering. Whole sentences, when spoken, would prove immensely difficult to understand, especially because each person apparently just decided they wanted to This was a fascinating read. The main factor to this was the author's occasional snarky sense of humour, particularly when referencing America's history of bad Indian name appropriations. Chapters on inventors, attitudes towards sex and cinema also paint quite a picture. How incomprehensible old English would be to current speakers is also staggering. Whole sentences, when spoken, would prove immensely difficult to understand, especially because each person apparently just decided they wanted to say words in a different way to everyone else. Or write them in a different way. Thank God for standardized spelling...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    This book is kind of like A Short History of Nearly Everything About American History, structured around etymology. In other words, it's awesome. One of the more enjoyable Bill Bryson books I've read, mostly because I don't have to read about him whining while traveling. I'll always hang onto my copy of it to reference. Here's just a few of the myriad of things I learned from this book: - The term "ham actor" was coined because lesser actors used to use ham fat to remove their make-up, rather tha This book is kind of like A Short History of Nearly Everything About American History, structured around etymology. In other words, it's awesome. One of the more enjoyable Bill Bryson books I've read, mostly because I don't have to read about him whining while traveling. I'll always hang onto my copy of it to reference. Here's just a few of the myriad of things I learned from this book: - The term "ham actor" was coined because lesser actors used to use ham fat to remove their make-up, rather than cold cream. - The Brooklyn Dodgers were originally called the Brooklyn Bridegrooms after 4 of their members got married in the same summer - but they changed their name to the Dodgers because their fans had to dodge several trolley lines to get to their ballpark safely. - "to keep the ball rolling" comes from the 1840 presidential campaign, in which a 10-foot leather ball was rolled from town to town to show support for William Henry Harrison. - the term "lobbyist" is such because they were people that hung around the Capitol lobby seeking favors from the legislators - they were in the lobby because they weren't allowed in the legislative chambers. - the term "filibuster" comes from a Dutch word meaning "pirate" - during the Civil War, the Union War Department issued standard uniforms made of recycled wool fibers called "shoddy" - which were really poorly made and came undone, so came about the adjective - The Viet Cong were called "Charlie" by Vietnam war soldiers because VC in radio code is Victor Charlie - Computer "bugs" & "debugging" started in 1945 when a US Navy vacuum tube computer crashed because a moth was crushed between the contact points of an electrical relay switch - "ten-gallon hat" is named for the braid that it's decorated with - the Spanish word for braid is "galon" - The early settlers of the west were really bawdy in naming - original names of towns, mountains, & rivers in the West included Whiskey Dick, Two Tits, Shithouse Mountain, Nipple Mountains, Tickle Cunt Branch, Lick Fork, and Humptulips. The only one that still remains is the Tetons. - The original name of Scranton, Pennsylvania was "Skunk's Misery" - "23 skiddoo" - men used to hang around by the Flat Iron Building on 23rd St in NYC because the unusual angles of the building would cause updrafts that would lift the skirts of women passing - the police used to come and tell them to "skiddoo" - "ye" was never pronounced "yee" - it was another way of writing "the" that was more convenient for writers and printers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rusty

    This is the second book about the history of English by Bill Bryson I’ve read. This one, however, is laser focused on how English evolved once people started speaking it over here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. Turns out, just like all his other books, it’s a whirlwind of historical trivia. I personally didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous book about English because the language itself wasn’t formed here, so this is more of a history of the unique vocabulary and idioms used here in the stat This is the second book about the history of English by Bill Bryson I’ve read. This one, however, is laser focused on how English evolved once people started speaking it over here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. Turns out, just like all his other books, it’s a whirlwind of historical trivia. I personally didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous book about English because the language itself wasn’t formed here, so this is more of a history of the unique vocabulary and idioms used here in the states. I’d also point out that after I raved about how amazing the last book was on the subject, I went and read some critiques of it and found that the previous book had more than its fair share factual errors. I can forgive because doing research in the pre-internet days was way harder, and fact checking was just too big a job – especially when factoids are being dropped almost every sentence. As another pre-internet work, I’m a bit more free willy with how seriously I take the ‘facts’ he shares. If I thought it was a stinking pile or crap I wouldn’t have bothered reading. I haven’t spent any time fact checking this one, and don’t intend to. I’ll just say that Bryson clearly did research and presented some clearly difficult to research items for us to peruse. And of course, the book is brimming with trivia – I particularly enjoyed the chapter about sex, and in it he discussed how widely the pendulum has swung in American’s attitudes about the topic. From puritans regularly giving their daughters out at night to travelers who need a bed to sleep in (and a girl to keep them warm, apparently) to being so restrictive a few centuries later that a woman could not mention she had anything other than a stomach or ankles – even when describing gynecological issues with a doctor. In all, I enjoyed the book, but didn’t find it quite as entertaining as some of his other works, or as compelling a read as his other book on the history of the English language. But whatever, I'm glad I read. If you're interested in words, and where they come from, I can't help but think you'd like this, even if I did give it a kinda shitty three-star review. I mean, I 'liked' it, and that's what three stars means, I don't know why I have to feel guilty about it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    This book is advertised as a history of the English language in the United States. But readers who primarily want to know about the trends of English in America, about its broader causes and effects, will only feel satisfied with this book about 50% of the time. When Bryson uses vocabulary examples to support larger narratives or points, he's brilliant. When was American English adapted from British English (losing 'doth' and 'liveth'), how was it altered by different eras of immigration, and wh This book is advertised as a history of the English language in the United States. But readers who primarily want to know about the trends of English in America, about its broader causes and effects, will only feel satisfied with this book about 50% of the time. When Bryson uses vocabulary examples to support larger narratives or points, he's brilliant. When was American English adapted from British English (losing 'doth' and 'liveth'), how was it altered by different eras of immigration, and what does this mean historically? Bryson tells us. To that end, I loved his early chapters - on the 18th century, national identity, immigration, and infrastructure, for example. The later chapters are less narrative and less cohesive with one another. Words that cropped up with the advent of cars, cinema, modern shopping. At times it feels like a chronicling of inventions and geographic names... interesting but not always yielding linguistic insight. And there's SO MUCH of it, that it's easy to grow tired of the details that aren't, well, pertinent to thoughtful discussion. At these points, the book feels more like a book of trivia than a linguistic history. The research is extensive. Bryson read or consulted some linguistic and American history classics, and compiled pretty good notes and a bibliography. But in some historical discussions he draws exclusively from secondary sources and reaches debatable conclusions, which he then oversimplifies. His depiction of Ellis Island as a magnificent and welcoming gateway full of charitable employees (and he cites only one, secondary source) might raise some eyebrows. Finally, I personally become suspicious when authors cite almost no sources by name in-text, except for one that pops up over and over again. David Hackett Fischer is everywhere. Ultimately, this is a general history of the U.S., through the lens of new words over the centuries. And the writing is by any measure good, but not brilliant. I give it an uninspired 2 1/2 stars, or a Goodreads 2.

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