by David Crystal
St. Martin’s Press, $22.99, 288 pages

In The Story of English in 100 Words David Crystal begins his linguistic explanations with a piece of an ankle bone from a roe-deer discovered in 1929 during the excavation of a 5th century CE cremation cemetery site. Experts argue that the runic letters carved into this bone translates to from a roe, and the word ROE is the first of 100 words Crystal uses to begin his historical narrative of the English language.

Crystal happily travels through many centuries, introducing the reader to the origins of words such as street (derived from the Latin word strata in 9th century), glamour (mystically tied to the word grammar), alphabet (that strangely didn’t appear in the dictionary until 1580) and -ology (a suffix that eventually evolved into its own noun, meaning science, in the 19th century).

The Story of English in 100 Words is a fascinating 1500-year journey that is exciting, informative and never dull. 100 Words also includes a brief introduction on the history of English words, which readers will find interesting and helpful. A must-read if you enjoy books on word origins, history and English!

Reviewed by Cheri Woods-Edwin