Praise for the Story of Ain’t

“Skinner . . . offers a highly entertaining and intelligent re-creation of events surrounding the 1961 publication of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary by G. & C. Merriam. . . . a rich and absorbing exploration of the changing standards in American language and culture”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A compelling reminder of the cultural significance of words and word-making.”

Booklist (starred review)

 “It takes true brilliance to lift the arid tellings of lexicographic fussing into the readable realm of the thriller and the bodice-ripper. With his riveting account of the furious rows over the publication in the Sixties of Webster’s 3rd edition, David Skinner has done precisely this, taking a fine story and honing it to popular perfection.”

–Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic and The Professor and the Madman

“Was it the first modern dictionary or the last traditional one? One way or the other, the flap over the appearance of Webster’s Third in 1961 was a never-to-be-repeated episode in American cultural history—a cultural donnybrook that spilled over into the editorials of the New York Times, the Nero Wolfe  mystery novels and the cartoons and columns of the New Yorker, where Dwight Macdonald had a cow. A half-century later, it’s still a compelling story with contemporary resonances. David Skinner has told it brilliantly, bringing a new and even-handed understanding not just to the linguistic issues, but to the social anxieties that they stood in for, as he brings to  to life the odd collection of actors who played a role in the affair.”

–Geoffrey Nunberg, University of California at Berkeley, emeritus chair of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel, language commentator, “Fresh Air,” NPR

“With one small contraction David Skinner tells the tale of a great battle in the 1960s War Between the Real and the Ideal.  It was a conflict with realists laying claim to idealism and idealists asserting realism and vice versa and on the contrary.  Skinner makes it all clear.  And — how can one resist saying so? — that ain’t all.”

–P.J. O’Rourke, author of Holidays in Heck

“The year 1961, when a fresh young prince of government took over from the old order, was a hinge time in American history in more ways than we might remember.  David Skinner’s Ain’t is a fascinating account of a major paradigm shift in the American language, when a group of bold lexicographers decided to tell it like it is and causing a huge cultural rumpus.  This is more than just a story about a new edition of a dictionary. A nifty book–and I just looked up “nifty” in my Webster’s Third to make sure I’m using it correctly. “

–Christopher Buckley, author of They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?

“Should a dictionary describe language as it is or as it should be? Enduring battles have been fought over this question. In this feast of a book, David Skinner tells the riveting story of Webster’s Third –the contentious dictionary, published in 1961, that launched a language war still being waged today. A cultural story as much as a linguistic one, teeming with colorful characters and big ideas, The Story of Ain’t is a must read for anybody who loves language.”

–Toby Lester, author of DaVinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image