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

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9780062027467: The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

“It takes true brilliance to lift the arid tellings of lexicographic fussing into the readable realm of the thriller and the bodice-ripper....David Skinner has done precisely this, taking a fine story and honing it to popular perfection.”
—Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman

The Story of Ain’t by David Skinner is the captivating true chronicle of the creation of Merriam Webster’s Third New International Dictionary in 1961, the most controversial dictionary ever published. Skinner’s surprising and engaging, erudite and witty account will enthrall fans of Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman and The Meaning of Everything, and The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs, as it explores a culture in transition and the brilliant, colorful individuals behind it. The Story of Ain’t is a smart, often outrageous, and altogether remarkable tale of how egos, infighting, and controversy shaped one of America’s most authoritative language texts, sparking a furious language debate that the late, great author David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) once called “the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars.” 

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From the Back Cover:

Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by the editor Philip Gove, Webster's Third broke with tradition, 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 what David Foster Wallace called "the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars." Editors and scholars howled for Gove's blood, calling him an enemy of clear thinking, a great relativist who was trying to sweep the English language into chaos. Critics bayed at the dictionary's permissive handling of ain't. Literary intellectuals such as Dwight Macdonald believed the dictionary's scientific approach to language and its abandonment of the old standard of usage represented the unraveling of civilization.

Entertaining and erudite, The Story of Ain't describes a great societal metamorphosis, tracing the fallout of the world wars, the rise of an educated middle class, and the emergence of America as the undisputed leader of the free world, and illuminating how those forces shaped our language. Never before or since has a dictionary so embodied the cultural transformation of the United States.

About the Author:

David Skinner is a writer and editor living in Alexandria, Virginia. He writes about language, culture, and his life as a husband, father, and suburbanite. He has been a staff editor at the Weekly Standard, for which he still writes, and an editor of Doublethink magazine. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New Atlantis, Slate, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, and many other publications. Skinner is the editor of Humanities magazine, which is published by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary.

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