Have you ever cringed while hearing someone mispronounce a wordâ€”or, worse, been tripped up by a wily silent letter yourself? Consider yourself lucky that you do not live in Victorian England, when the way you pronounced a word was seen as a sometimes-damning index of who you were and how you should be treated. No wonder then that jokes about English usage provided one of Punch magazineâ€™s most fruitful veins of humor for sixty years, from its first issue in 1841 to 1900.
For We Are Not Amused, renowned English-language expert David Crystal has explored the most common pronunciation-related controversies during the reign of Queen Victoria and brought together the cartoons and articles that poked fun at them, adding insightful commentary on the context of the times. The collection brings to light a society where class distinctions ruled. Crystal explains why people felt so strongly about accents and identifies which accents were the main sources of jokes, from the dropped hâ€™s of the Cockney working class to the upper-class tendency to drop the final g in words like â€œhuntinâ€™â€� and â€œfishinâ€™.â€�
In this fascinating and highly entertaining book, Crystal shows that outrage over proper pronunciation is nothing newâ€”our feelings today have their origins in the ways our Victorian predecessors thought about the subject.