|JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS|
the guardian Fri 03 April 2009
English has been branded "a whore among languages" that has proved shamelessly "open to offers" from words of more than 350 other vernaculars. But while it was coerced into absorbing foreign terms when Latin, Norse and French influences intruded on its territory, English also serves as a reminder of its own turbulent and brutal exploits, when in the course of its travels it reversed the process, forcing itself on speakers of many other tongues. Weaving together profound and violent encounters, this rich account uncovers some of the secrets behind commonplace expressions, arguing that an awareness of the routes by which words made it into English is essential to our understanding of who its speakers are. Occasionally it may lapse into linguistic trivia, but it also disentangles an intriguing narrative from a mass of information, revealing the distinct cultural climates that produced certain words and bearing witness to an increasingly global language, always morphing into something new.