Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue Summary

A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar

Why do we say “I am reading a catalog” instead of “I read a catalog”? Why do we say “do” at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Language distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.

Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century ad, John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor. Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English— and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for (and no, it’s not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).

Book Reviews


A fascinating read5 star

I have never been interested in the history of the language I speak regularly. I listened to several of the authors classes on Great Courses and he was very engaging. I decided to buy some books of his. Now he has me thinking of the history of English in way I never have before. Phoenician really as a contributor and re-arranger of the German that English formed from. It’s impressively mind blowing.55


Entertaining and Illuminating4 star

Finally someone has come up with some theory why English is littered with the word "do" and whay caused the legrndary Great Vowel Shift. I don't know why the author's theory that one of the greatest unfluences on the English's language came from the Welsh (the only ither "do" language in the world!) Oh wait. I know why… English snobbery!!! Anyway, the author should've stopped about 3/4 through cuz that's when it started to get boring & I shelved it. But the first half or so is GREAT! I'm reading his book "The Power of Babel" now and it's fascinating! Perfect for amateur linguists who just want the whole mess of the history of language distilled down to its most intrresting parts.45


Bright, entertaining, accessible5 star

Confronts accepted histories of English with controversial alternate theories of early influence and origin. A fun read.55

Other Books by John McWhorter

Nine Nasty Words


Nine Nasty Words
Words on the Move


Words on the Move
5     5

   Users Online