Dog Eared

Books we love

Spelling it Out

We asked David Wolman, author of Righting the Mother Tongue, to suggest a few books about English orthography and people who have dared to modify it. Here are his recommendations.

Wayne Wiegand, Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey. American Library Association, 1996
Dewey spent his life straddling that unclear boundary between trivia and profundity. Wiegand's meticulously researched biography contains revealing details about the man and his trio of obsessions: library organization, the metric system and spelling reform.

George D. Painter, William Caxton: A Biography. Putnam, 1976
An entrepreneur, translator, printer and de facto spelling reformer, Caxton is one of the most overlooked characters in the story of English spelling.

David Crystal, The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left. Oxford University Press, 2006
This David Crystal book is a concise rebuttal to language neocons and a useful primer for anyone interested in the battle between prescriptivism and descriptivism.

Click here to read more articles from Dog Eared.

How did English spelling get so screwy? David Wolman explains.
Joshua Kendall's recommended readings on the mad minds behind dictionaries.
Sit for a Spell
Books about the culture of competitive spelling.