Book week: Women talk more than men & Origins of the specious

Instal(l)ment 2 of me showing off the books people have sent me for (BrE informal) nuffink.  (For the introduction to Book Week, click here.)

Free book 3: 
Women talk more than men...and other myths about language explained

First today it's Cambridge University Press's Women talk more than men...and other myths about language explained (2016) by Abby Kaplan, whom they list as "assistant professor (lecturer) in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Utah". I checked her website to see which was her real title, and it's the same there too, and other people have it at Utah as well (but not all assistant profs do). Is this Utah's way of marking a teaching-only positions? Or are individuals there trying to translate their titles into British? (Why?) {E/i}nquiring minds want to know.

Order UK
Order US
Ok, that was a tangent about titles, but before I go on to say nice things about this book, I'm going to (BrE) have a go at its title, particularly the "myths about language explained". I don't need the myth just explained, I need it investigated or debunked. And the book actually does all those things, so I do wish the title said so.

Getting past my obsession with titles, this is a very nice textbook. It might also be a good read for people interested in language generally, but the textbook tone and structure might make it less of a beach book than some. Each chapter introduces the 'myth', looks at details and facts, and most provide one or more case studies. There are lots of tables and graphs and an appendix on statistics. The aim is that "the book will encourage you to think of linguistics as an empirical science, one that requires systematic and technical study" (p. 3). Since it doesn't really give the tools to engage in that kind of study oneself, it would best suit a "linguistics for non-majors" elective or a pre-major introductory module.  It might also work well in the UK for something like the English Language A-level (or maybe Psychology? I don't know enough about their curriculum to say). Though, I must say, it will probably work better in the US than in the UK. The stuff on English dialect is about US dialects, including (the grammaticality of) African-American Vernacular English and attitudes toward(s) a variety of US southern accents. (There is a case study related to British Sign Language, though.) It's all good stuff, but not necessarily stuff that UK students have a feel for (says the voice of experience). But though the English in it is mostly American, many other languages are explored in the case studies.

The book covers myths like "a dialect is a collection of mistakes" and "adults can't learn a new language" and "texting makes you illiterate". One it doesn't cover (that other myths books--like this one--do) is anything much about the history of the language and particularly the myths about the relationships between British and American Englishes (and other national Englishes). Which brings us to the next (orig. AmE) freebie...

Free book 4:
Origins of the specious: myths and misconceptions of the English language

This one is more suited to the beach--not written for students, but for people who like to read a bit about language. It's Patricia T. O'Conner (author of the grammar guide Woe is I) and (in smaller print) Stewart Kellerman, who also run the Grammarphobia blog. The authors' note tells us that two people wrote the book, but in one person's (Patricia's) voice. The book was published and sent to me in 2009, and I read the whole thing then, but I'm not going to read the whole thing once more in order to refresh my memory. But I did enjoy it.

Because it's about the English language, rather than Language (some linguists like me use the big L for Language as a phenomenon), the myths covered are more social and historical than the more psychological ones (about chimpanzees and language learning) that Kaplan covers. So, we've got grammar prescriptions, etymology, dirty words, neologisms and so forth. That is to say, the book is rich in things that readers of this blog will enjoy--or that they might already know from reading language blogs. But surely, you'll enjoy reading it again, in a book with a fantastic title?

As far as I can tell, this was released in the US only, and the title of the first chapter might offer a clue as to why: "Stiff Upper Lips: Why can't the British be more like us?"  At the moment Powell's (US) has both the hard and soft covers.


  1. "But though the English in it is ..."

    I think part of this sentence has escaped while your back was turned.

  2. Go in have a go would seem to be OED sense 2c

    2c. Originally: a prizefight, boxing match, or the like. Later more generally: a contest, a competition; a fight; an argument.

    This is not an exclusively British sense:

    1890 Texas Siftings 1 Nov. 7/3 Cost me five dollars the other day to see the tamest kind of a go. There wasn't a knockdown in ten rounds.

    Much more common is OED sense 2b

    2 b. A try or attempt (at doing something); a ‘shot’; an occasion when something is done or attempted; a spell, a stint; a turn at doing or using something.

    To my generation, Have a Go prompts memories of this radio programme (click).

  3. My first reaction was 'have a go at' isn't BrE! But then I looked at the linked definition, and I have to apologize because that meaning for it is completely unfamiliar to me as an American. David Crosbie, the OED sense of 2b is what I'm familiar with, but the 'have a fight' sense vaguely rang a bell. I asked hubby what he thought it meant if a person said, 'he had a go at me.' His response was that if it was a woman, he'd probably think she was talking sexually. If it was a guy, he'd assume he was from the British Isles and talking about a fight. So perhaps not exclusively BrE, but definitely more common there.

  4. I (BrE) would certainly use "have a go at" in the sense that Lynne did, but I'd also "have a go at" my husband for not doing something he'd said he'd do.... not so much a physical fight as a verbal one.

  5. What makes the phrase have a go at adversarial is the little word at.

    Have a go on its own doesn't mean 'fight' — unless implied by the context.

    Similarly go on at someone means 'nag someone' But go on doesn't mean 'nag'.

    In effect, have a go at and go on at are transitive multi-word verbs with adversarial meaning. By contrast have a go and go on are intransitive.

    Intransitive have a go at for me has (at least) two meanings
    • 'engage in something with the hope of succeeding'
    • 'take turn in the activity at hand'

    The 'engage in' meaning can extend to transitive have a go at — but only with an inanimate object
    e.g. have a go at para-gliding

    Transitive go on at has (for me) only one meaning. ('nag' as i said)

    Intransitive go on has a range of meanings
    • 'continue'
    • 'persist'
    • 'take the stage'
    • 'become lit'

    I can't immediately think of another multi-word transitive word in which at makes this adversarial difference. But there is a similar difference between take it out and take it out on.

    I wonder, though, about the two-word verb hit on. I understand the word (I think) but regard it as American. So my question is: Can the intransitive verb hit carry the same sense? (which I take to be sexual and predatory).

    1. There's one instance I can think of where "have a go" without "at" denotes aggression, and that's that refrain of football hooligans and belligerent drunks, "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough".

  6. No, hit by itself does not carry any sexual meaning (unlike tap...), but I hesitate to say that hitting on someone is predatory, at least in the connotative sense of bad and hoping to take advantage of someone. A friend might say, "He was totally hitting on you!" and intend it as something pleasing. It means giving compliments or engaging in conversation that is meant to signal one's romantic interest in someone, with the hope that it might be returned. It can be welcome or unwelcome, depending on the person, their timing, and social competence.

  7. Grace

    You make it sound like 'chat up' — except that an inept chat-up is dismissed as tiresome rather than unwelcome.

    Even if hit on doesn't quite mean what I thought, you confirm that intransitive hit doesn't convey any sort of romantic approach — until made transitive with on.

  8. I don't know... Does a chat-up typically involve a conversation, or could it just be a comment or two? For example, if you were at a club and said, "Hey, I love your hair! Can I buy you a drink?", that would be hitting on someone. Would that also count as a chat-up?

    1. Brit here. I've never come across "a chat-up"; and, excluding line/lines, it's so infrequent in a Google search that I would say it isn't used as a noun.

      For me, to chat someone up or to chat up someone is to initiate a dialogue with a view to greater intimacy and, not necessarily but with luck and if the chemistry is right, to a date and whatever that leads to. In heterosexual situations I think the male has to do the chatting up; with roles reversed, the female would flirt - or send her friend over to say "My friend fancies your mate" - with the hope of being chatted up. Chatting up generally begins with a 'chat-up line' or two; the 'net is full of corny examples based on cringeworthy puns, but I would say the example you give qualifies.

      For me, successful chatting up doesn't end until the two people are in relaxed conversation - at least. If it fails, the male may say to his mates something like "I tried to chat her up but she weren't having none of it" - or, more likely, "Nah, I didn't fancy it close up".

  9. Grace, I think a chat-up implies one side of a conversation.

    I suspect the difference between BrE chatting up and AmE hitting on is that Brits are less direct, more wordy.

  10. >>I suspect the difference between BrE chatting up and AmE hitting on is that Brits are less direct, more wordy.<<

    As in, say, "Get your coat, you've pulled"......? :)

  11. I have to disagree about that. Brits usually have had lots of alcohol and can be WAAAYYYY too direct for an American's taste!


The book!

Follow by email

View by topic



AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)