“The Story of Be,” David Crystal’s book (2017, Oxford University Press), is subtitled “A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language.” I’ve given away my reaction in my headline — it’s a Sustaining Book for times when (to paraphrase A.A. Milne, coiner of the term Sustaining Book) I need Help and Comfort in times of Great Tightness about the state of the language.
When I’ve heard “be” poorly conjugated, not conjugated at all, or just dropped once too often, it is a comfort to sit down with “The Story of Be” and read about yet another way it can, well, be used. As Crystal reports in the Preface, “Thanks to its remarkable history, be has developed a greater range of meanings and uses, and a greater range of variant forms, than any other English word — 1,812 so far recorded by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) lexicographers.”
So while Crystal’s first chapter title is “To be or not to be,” the variety is far from ending there. Between there and the last chapter, no. 26, are such usages as “Time being,” “How are you?,” “Two and two is four,” (are… grrr!), “My kids are all grown up,” “So be it,” “So I was, like, ‘wow'” (grrrrrrr again), and “How old are you?”
Chapter 26’s title is “It’s just a book, is all,” but I wonder. “The Story of Be” is like a love letter to a word, a balm to a writer’s spirit, and a legible remedy for all the audible errors of the day.
Just a book? ‘Tis not! It was a happy choice for this, my 300th post. Thank you for reading, whether this be your first or your 300th visit.
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Filed under: Sustaining Books