The Spectator review of Talk on the Wild Side

“Pedants and grouches and sticklers and ‘authoritarian scolds’ don’t come out of this book too well. That’s not to say that Greene takes an anything-goes, ultra-descriptivist attitude (i.e. people can do whatever they want, and we merely observe what they do rather than dictate it). On the contrary, he knows what he likes. It’s just that what he likes is not people like N.M. Gwynne, who combine fervent prescriptivism with what Greene calls ‘an unerring instinct for getting it wrong’.

Greene’s book takes in the inevitable failure of quixotic — if sometimes admirable — artificial languages, and the rapid improvement in automated translation (this section is particularly good). With well chosen examples, he demonstrates languages’ resilience and variety (his subject is mostly English but he ventures abroad for a spell, too). He takes Orwell to task over his naivety about the uncomplicated benefits of uncomplicated language. Even Donald Trump and Nigel Farage make an appearance (when don’t they?). He is open-minded and discerning (if you need a basic rule: look at what good writers do, and do that), but he’s no zealot and no snob.” (Read the rest.)