Made in America, by Bill Bryson

I normally adore Bill Bryson’s writing. I love his travel books, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Mother Tongue (although it’s been a while since I’ve read that one). I kind of want to be Bill Bryson, with his balancing between US and UK language and culture and his wonderfully readable and unique voice.

I didn’t adore this. I thought I would – it’s a linguistic history book about American English after all – but I didn’t. I found it too reliant on lists and not enough on stories and personalities. When he manages to tell the stories of etymologies, it’s fairly good, but even then Bryson’s voice is missing. There are a few good phrases, just enough to hint that it’s actually Bryson writing and not a ghostwriter, but overall it’s not nearly as entertaining as anything else I’ve read by him.

One of the things I’m most disappointed about is that I couldn’t find the reference in the book to one of the things mentioned in the back-of-book blurb: “why Americans say “lootenant” and “Toosday”. I’ve never understood why it’s pronounced “leftenant” in the UK, even though “lieu” is still “loo” – maybe a handwriting difference? – and I was looking forward to reading Bryson’s take on it. But I couldn’t find it – if anyone else has read the book and knows where I was reading too fast, pleeeease let me know.

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1 Comment

Filed under Non-Fiction (Other)

One response to “Made in America, by Bill Bryson

  1. Camilla

    I haven’t read the book, but I can take a guess at the loo/left – lieu is French for ‘place’ and lieu-tenant roughly translates to ‘left holding [the fort, I assume!]’. And as ‘Derby’, ‘Cholmondeley’ and other such words prove, there’s nothing upper class Brits liked more than making up their own pronunciations and mocking the unaware. (I can’t cite any sources for this, it’s just what I was lead to believe in prep school)

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