Friday, 22 November 2013

The Rude Story of English, by Tom Howell

The Rude Story of English
By Tom Howell

Illustrations by Gabe Foreman
Paperback, 320 pages

Are you ready for something completely different?

Tom Howell treats the history of the English language and how it came to be as an epic hero story with all the bumps, embarrassments, embellishments and guesswork of a true word nerd. And he makes it funny!

This is a strange book to classify: Historical, humorous, intellectual, tongue in cheek, naughty and irreverent.

And penis jokes. Don't forget the ancients and their love of penis jokes. Good things like that are timeless.

It is a strange and wonderful book, written by what I assume is a strange and wonderful man. It takes some time to get through as there is so much going on in each page - but you will feel like part of a special society. A little warped, like you, this is a truly original work.

From the back flap:
There are only two problems with the story of the English language: one, no hero. Two, not rude enough. In The Rude Story of English, recovering lexicographer Tom Howell swiftly remedies these and gives us a rousing account of our language – without all the boring bits and with all the interesting parts kept in – and reveals English’s boisterous, at times obnoxious, character.

From a haphazard beginning in 449 AD, when a legendary, fearsome Germanic warrior named Hengest tripped and fell onto British shores, the real story of English has been rife with accident, physical comedy, phallic  monuments, rude behaviour, dubious facts, and an alarming quantity of poetry written by lawyers.

Across vast distances of space and time, from the language’s origins to its fast-approaching retirement, a moody and miraculously long-lived Hengest voyages to the pubs of Chaucer’s London, aboard pirate ships in the north Atlantic, to plantations in Barbados, bookstores in Jamaica, the chilly inlet of Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland, a private men’s club in Australia, and beyond.

Part Monty Python sketch, part Oxford English Dictionary, The Rude Story of English displays an exuberant love of language and a sharp, anti-authoritarian sense of humour. Entertaining and informative, it looks at English through its most uncomfortable, colourful, and off-putting parts, chronicling the story of the language as it has never been told before.

Tom Howell wrote definitions for the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and thesaurus entries for the Canadian Oxford Thesaurus before abandoning serious work. He became the in-house word nerd on CBC Radio’s language show, And Sometimes Y, which involved rewriting Fowler’s Modern English Usage as an opera, composing the “Phoenician Alphabet Song,” and other important cultural tasks. Then he took a job as poetry correspondent for CBC’s The Next Chapter. Originally from London, England, Tom currently lives and makes various noises in Toronto.

Gabe Foreman was born in Thunder Bay. Over the years, his drawings and paintings have appeared on several albums by the musical group The Burning Hell. In 2011, his book of poems, A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People was published by Coach House Books. He lives in Montreal where he works at a soup kitchen.