Now, given the theme of this blog, I wouldn't review just any book about the English language that arrives unannounced on my desk. But this one gets in because of its first chapter, 'Stiff upper lips: or, Why can't the British be more like us?' The main myth that this chapter discusses is a major topic of discussion here (in their words, p.4): 'If there's one thing that people agree on, it's that British English is purer than its American offshoot.' And, of course, they show that
neither English is more proper. In some respects American English is purer than British English. We've preserved some usages and spellings and pronunciations that have changed over time in Britain. But the reverse is also true. [...] In many cases, it's nearly impossible to tell which branch has history on its side.They go on to give a number of examples of differences, histories and false beliefs about English as she is spoke on the two sides of the Atlantic. These include many that will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog, including the contradictory meanings of the verb table, pronunciation of /a/-before-/s/ and post-vocalic /r/, the /h/ in herb, Webster's effects on AmE spelling, gotten, and gone missing. It's only a 13-page chapter (supplemented by three pages of bibliographic notes at the end of the book), so some of these are just mentioned in passing. The tone is chatty and accessible, the pace is quick and there's lots of good information.
Further myths about English are dismantled in chapters on stupid prescriptive rules (like 'don't split infinitives'), false etymologies, 'dirty' words, English's relationship with French, 'politically correct' language, the role of errors in language change and such. The chapters are generally loose collections of examples--that's not a criticism, just a description--and it's perfectly understandable in a book of this type. So many assorted false beliefs about English, and language in general, exist, and they defy easy categorization into chapter headings. The themes will be familiar to most people who read language blogs or similar types of books, but most people will find new and interesting examples among the familiar ones. The scholarship cannot be faulted. The book is pitched toward a non-scholarly audience and so there is little source citation and no endnote reference numbers in the text, but there are bibliographic notes and acknowledg(e)ment of several linguistic scholars--which account for about 17% of the pages in the book. (Would I have liked to have seen a suggestion that this blog is a nice source for people interested in the BrE/AmE myths? Well, yes, but they don't cite many blogs at all, so I can't take it personally.)
Incidentally, I love the title--but so did someone else who published a book about gamers this year. I guess it was the thing to do in the (AmE-preferred) sesquicentennial/(BrE-preferred) sesquicentenary anniversary of Darwin's On the origin of species.