Work Title: By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English
Work Author(s): David Crystal
B/W illustrations, 336 pages, Hardcover $27.95
Reviewer: Heather Shaw
By Crystal's own admission, By Hook or by Crook is a linguistic travelogue. Normally a writer of textbooks and dictionaries---utterly self-contained literary worlds---this book takes a meandering path through the Welsh countryside while observing and commenting on the road signs leading to contemporary standard English.
Welsh itself is enough to make one wonder about maps and ancestry. Take the name of this rail stop between Chester and Holyhead: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch. Crystal takes it apart to show the meaning:
Llan fair pwll gwyn gyll
Church (of) Mary (in the) hollow (of the) white hazel
goger y chwyrn drobwll llan tysilio gogo goch
near the rapid whirlpool (and) church of (St) Tysilio (by the) red cave.
Don't worry: "Locals never use the long name," Crystal reports. "Life is too short."
But linguistic calisthenics and world-record recording is not at all what this book is about. Rather, Crystal's chapters are like dinner conversations: first, we're talking about travel, then movies, then an Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, then a shepherd in...