The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 10/9/2012
  • Publisher: Harpercollins

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Few decades have caused more controversy than the 1960s, a time of explosive change in which tradition and authority gave way to freedom-a sweeping transformation crystalized in the 1961 publication of Webster's Third New International Dictionary.Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by editor Philip Gove, Webster's Third broke with convention, adding thousands of new words and eliminating "artificial notions of correctness, " basing proper usage on how language was actually spoken. The dictionary's revolutionary style sparked debate in universities, libraries, newspapers, and living rooms nationwide. Critics instantly took umbrage at the dictionary's handling of "ain't," among other blasphemies. Literary intellectuals like Dwight Macdonald believed the dictionary's scientific approach to language and its abandonment of the old standard of usage represented the end of civilization.In this intriguing history, David Skinner tells the story of the people who made the dictionary, those who denounced it, and the forces that shaped it. He traces the shift in the American lexicon in the decades leading up to 1961, identifying the changes that affected our language from the Great Depression through World War II to the 1950s. As America became the undisputed leader of the free world, its citizens were becoming more educated. What came to be known as middlebrow culture was born, and alongside it a cadre of cultural critics, including Macdonald who condemned its permissiveness and divergence from standards.Entertaining and erudite, The Story of Ain't describes a great social metamorphosis in America and illuminates the intriguing yet little known early episode in the culture war that continues to divide the nation.

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