Bill Bryson is my absolute favourite author now for quite a few years although some of his latest things didn’t thrill me so much. In recent years he just could get close to former works like the wonderful travel book “Neither Here Nor There” (my absolute favourite) or the multi-award-winning “A Short History of Nearly Everything”.
As a matter of fact I actually met Mr Bryson at one of those award “ceremonies”. It was in Dublin in 2007 when he received the James Joyce Award of the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin. I had read in the newspaper that he would be awarded with the award and I made my trip to the university after work. This was the first time I ever made it to a university lecture room.
The room was packed and by the time Mr Bryson received the award people were pushing through the open doors of the auditorium trying to catch a glimpse of the popular author.
Hoping to get my copy of his auto-biography “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir” signed I was one of dozens lining up after the ceremony to meet and greet him for photos and autographs.
But as I always happen to meet my heroes I also managed to meet my favourite author Bill Bryson:
But back to “Made in America”…
I had bought this book 5 years ago and I am a terrible reader. I usually gather a collection of 20-30 books and perform book zapping. Rarely can one book capture my attention for a long period of time and so I switch between novels, educational, scientific…whatever my mood is like…
So now after around 5 years I finally managed to finish reading this book.
Because it’s been such a long time since I started reading I have to admit that I do not remember all the details from the first half of it. But it doesn’t really matter as I am sure a lot of the information is somewhere manifested in the back of my brain.
“Made in America” is a book about the history of the American English language. But to explain this the author obviously has to go through the history of America itself.
You can be sure that almost nothing is left out on Bill Bryson’s journey through time and space when he explains the heritage of words, names and phrases in the American language.
Here are some examples:
At first people were not sure what to say in response to a ringing phone. Edison thought callers should answer with a jaunty “Ahoy!” and that was the word habitually used by the first telephone operator, one George Coy of New Haven. (Only male operators were employed at first. As so often happens with new technologies, women weren’t allowed anywhere near it until the novelty had worn off.) Others said, “Yes!” or “What?” and many merely picked up the receiver and listened hopefully. The problem was such that magazines ran long articles explaining the etiquette of phone use.
Today, America is the most phone-dependent nation on earth. Ninety-three percent of American homes have a phone and almost 70 per cent have two phones, a level of penetration no other nation but Canada comes anywhere near equalling, and each household makes or receives on average 3,516 calls per year, a figure astonishing to almost all other people in the world.
[...] Probably the liveliest diversity of spellings belongs to Chicago, which in its early days was rendered as Shuerkaigo, Psceschaggo, Shikkago, Tsckakko, Ztschaggo, Shecago, Shekakko, Stkachango and almost any other remotely similar combination you could think of.
So, if you are interested in America and interested in the English language (or languages in general) take a look at this book. There is a hell lot of information in here and will probably be good to keep in the shelf for references (though for this purpose unfortunately the glossary is very poor).