Who decides which words are defined in which ways in dictionaries? Are these decisions made without bias or prejudice? Are there ulterior motives involved? Who decides the rules of grammar—and thus what is considered "proper"—and why do we need to be told how to speak a language we already speak? This is an absorbing history that attempts to answer these questions. —Recommended by Jeff, City Lights Books
In its long history, the English language has had many lawmakers—those who have tried to regulate or otherwise organize the way we speak. The Lexicographer's Dilemma poses a pair of questions—what does proper English mean, and who gets to say what's right? Our ideas of correct or proper English have a history, and today's debates over the state of the language—whether about Ebonics in schools, the unique use of language in a South Park episode, or split infinitives in the Times—make sense only in historical context. As historian Jack Lynch has discovered, every rule has a human history, and the characters who populate his narrative are as interesting for their obsessions as for their erudition. Charting the evolution of English with wit and intelligence, he provides a rich historical perspective that makes us appreciate a new the hard-won standards we now enjoy.