By Hook or by Crook: A journey in search of English

by David Crystal (HarperPress, 2007): 336pp, £21.30 (hbk), ISBN 978 0007235582.

Reviewed by Christina Thomas

Buy this book

'Discursive' is probably the best word to use to describe this book. 'Eclectic' would be another good one. In 2005, David Crystal found himself travelling through North Wales and the border with England working on a BBC project, and this journey is the framework for excursions into all kinds of linguistic byways. This is not a reference work, although it has three indices and a list of references and sources. Rather it is an excellent bedtime read for anyone who is interested in our language.

Hay, saints and firefighters

To give an idea of the nature of the book, it is probably best to describe a few pages at random. Chapter 7 finds Crystal leaving Hay on the road to Leominster. We rapidly learn about the history of Hay castle and the origins of the name Hay. St John of God, patron saint of the book trade and firefighters, features next. Weobley follows and its associations with Shakespeare. Next the vagaries of English pronunciation: 'Lemster' for Leominster', 'Muzzle' for Mousehole and so on. Crystal continues with an exploration of who or what the Leo in Leominster refers to.

All this is covered in ten pages, but the pace is not frenetic at all. Reading this is like taking a drive at a sedate pace on a Sunday afternoon, pausing to take in the best of the scenery.

Reviews of other literary criticism and books on language All book reviews