£8.99) Humans are not as fast as cheetahs, nor are we as adaptable as bacteria but, alone among creatures, we can use language with an infinite variety.
And English is the most promiscuous of languages. A person who speaks Arabic can trace most of the words he or she uses back to that language’s ancestors. But English, Hitchings says, is “a place of strange meetings” where the speaker uses words absorbed from more than 350 other languages.
Hitchings shows how language is a sign of political power and the offspring of countless invasions and colonisations and commercial activity. And the hybridity of the language reflects the hybridity of Englishspeaking communities around the world. Hitchings is addicted to words and he has written a thrilling narrative history of our uniquely beautiful and thriving language, and studded his account with words and their origins.