Says Who? Book Summary - Says Who? Book explained in key points
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Says Who? summary

Anne Curzan

A Kinder, Funner Usage Guide for Everyone Who Cares About Words

4 (16 ratings)
17 mins
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    Says Who?
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    Are the rules really the rules?

    Among linguists, the word “impact” is deeply controversial. “Only teeth can be impacted”, a newspaper editor once insisted to the author. But, undoubtedly, we’ve all seen news articles where “impact” was used as a verb to describe how various factors affect the economy. So what’s wrong with it?

    Well, ​many grammarians and usage guides claim that “impact” as a verb is a nonsensical and unacceptable new usage.

    However, this argument is based on a false premise. In fact, “impact” has been a verb in English longer than it’s been a noun. In the early seventeenth century, it meant “to press closely into something.” The noun “impact” only arose in the late eighteenth century to refer to the collision of two bodies. Within a few decades, it began to be used figuratively to talk about effects or influences.

    Grammandos caught on to the growing figurative use and decided to clamp down on it. The largest professional association in the humanities, the Modern Language Association, still asserts that “impact” can’t be used in the figurative sense. Likewise, in 2001, 81 percent of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary voted that the use of the verb “impact” to mean “to have an effect” is unacceptable. 

    There are signs that these usage organizations are loosening up, though. By 2015, only 50 percent of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel disapproved of this use of “impact”.

    So is “impact” as a verb okay or not? The answer might be: it depends. Groups like the Usage Panel –⁠ which was actually disbanded in 2018 –⁠ do play an important role in determining which linguistic usages are acceptable in formal, edited contexts. 

    However, their judgments are far from objective. They’re invariably influenced by the particular linguistic sensibilities and ideological leanings of their members. In other words, their votes don’t make any usage universally right or wrong. Maybe avoid the figurative “impact” in formal writing –⁠ but otherwise, go ahead.

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    What is Says Who? about?

    Says Who? (2024) is an insightful examination of the complex and ever-evolving nature of language. It explores how perceptions, norms, and social forces shape the way we use and understand language, and how these dynamics impact communication across various contexts. Ultimately, it challenges readers to reexamine their assumptions about “correct” language and consider the nuanced role language plays in shaping identity, culture, and society.

    Says Who? Review

    Says Who? (2017) by Anne Curzan delves into the fascinating world of language and the way it evolves over time. Here's why this book is a great choice for language enthusiasts:

    • Explores the intriguing origins of common phrases and words, shedding light on the ever-changing English language.
    • Analyzes popular misconceptions and grammar rules, challenging readers to question the language norms they take for granted.
    • Provides insightful explanations on how language shapes culture and society, presenting a fresh perspective on everyday communication.

    Who should read Says Who??

    • Students and educators in linguistics, language studies, or communication fields
    • Writers, journalists, and content creators
    • Lifelong learners interested in the intricacies of the English language

    About the Author

    Ann Curzan is a linguist and professor at the University of Michigan, where she also serves as the dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She writes about language for the blog Lingua Franca for the Chronicle of Higher Education and for the column “Talking About Words” in Michigan Today. As a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel and the American Dialect, she helps to gauge the acceptability of usages of words and grammatical constructions as well as voting on the Word of the Year.

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    Says Who? FAQs 

    What is the main message of Says Who??

    Question the sources of your language beliefs for better communication.

    How long does it take to read Says Who??

    Reading time varies. Blinkist summary can be read in about 15 minutes.

    Is Says Who? a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Says Who? is worth reading to understand language influences in critical thinking.

    Who is the author of Says Who??

    The author of Says Who? is Anne Curzan.

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