Let’s Talk by David Crystal

I live for well-written books that explain how the world works and/or give tips on how to build up or improve skills. My latest discovery in this genre is 2020’s Let’s Talk: How English Conversation Works by David Crystal. This slim, well-written volume breaks down the conventions and nuances of conversations in clear, simple language with lots of examples. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

Banter, chit-chat, gossip, natter, tete-a-tete: these are just a few of the terms for the varied ways in which we interact with one another through conversation. David Crystal explores the factors that motivate so many different kinds of talk and reveals the rules we use unconsciously, even in the most routine exchanges of everyday conversation. We tend to think of conversation as something spontaneous, instinctive, habitual. It has been described as an art, as a game, sometimes even as a battle. Whichever metaphor we use, most people are unaware of what the rules are, how they work, and how we can bend and break them when circumstances warrant it.

Crystal does very well at writing out and explaining the hidden, unwritten rules that underlie all our everyday interactions, leading to many ‘aha’ moments while reading that made me say “Wow, we really do do that!” His source materials and examples are particularly compelling, drawn from his 1970s recordings of authentic informal conversations as well as other modern examples. He also makes the text readable and interesting with relatively short chapters and engaging, well-written text. He tends to be academic, delving into the history of conversation in English and using some linguistics jargon (and he also writes his own take on a battle rap) but overall he shares relevant, useful, or interesting tidbits about how people talk to each other.

For me personally, as an English language and literature nerd, this book was fascinating and enlightening; I felt like an extraterrestrial anthropologist studying the communication habits of humanity (and the book’s British English was charming and familiar from my favorite UK shows)! This book would be good for other language or history nerds, social science enthusiasts, those for whom English isn’t their first language (though strong familiarity with the language is helpful), and anyone who enjoys talking to people and/or wants to have better conversations and relationships.

100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces

100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces“Just in case I get hungry, I have a cache of maraschino cherries and cumin-seasoned almonds in a conch near the chaise longue.”

If I said this to you in conversation one day, besides calling into question my taste in snack foods or the wisdom of my food storage choices, you might accuse me of mispronouncing at least one of those words. The above sentence contains seven of the 100 most mispronounced words, according to the book by the same name from the editors of American Heritage Dictionaries.

Cache : Properly pronounced just like the word cash; defined by American Heritage Dictionary as “a supply of goods or store of valuables, especially when concealed in a hiding place.” Not to be confused with the word “cachet” which is “a mark of distinction, prestige.”


Maraschino: This word is derived from the Italian language, therefore the proper pronunciation uses the (sk) sound for the letters -sch-, as in school, scheme, or bruschetta. Have you been pronouncing bruschetta with the (sh) sound? If so, you’re not alone – I have been mispronouncing that one for years.  I could try to blame my tendency to use the “sh” sound on my being a librarian, but I don’t like playing into the stereotype so I won’t! Maraschino is so often pronounced with the (sh) sound that many dictionaries now recognize that pronunciation as acceptable. The good folks at American Heritage advise, however, that if you want to be recognized as a gourmet, you should stick with the (sk).


Cumin: This is a tricky one. For centuries, lexicographers have preferred the pronunciation with a short (u) sound, rather like “come in” with the emphasis on the first syllable. This is based on earlier spellings of the spice name, which include comyn, commen, cummin, and commin, among others. However, in recent years this pronunciation has given way to kyoo’min and koo’min, each used with about equal frequency. For a while, I was hoping there would be a different name for the fresh herb than there is for the seed. That is the case with cilantro and its seed coriander. Alas, no such luck. The herb from which cumin seeds grow is called Cuminum cyminum, which is rather fun -though not necessarily easy- to say. It might be a good band name, though. There is a precedent for bands named after spices and foods in general. (Which one is your favorite? I rather like Red Hot Chili Peppers. I really enjoyed reading the biography Scar Tissue by lead singer Anthony Kiedis. But I digress…that may be a blog topic for another day.)


Almond: Good news for all – there are many accepted ways to pronounce this word. Whether you pronounce it with the (l) sound or without,  with the (d) at the end or not, you have plenty of company so don’t let anyone tell you that you are nuts (about that, at least). The British tendency is to leave the “l” sound out and pronounce the “d” at the end. The American tendency is the opposite. Personally, I pronounce all the letters in almond. I am a real rebel, folks. You might use the word as an icebreaker: “How do YOU pronounce almond?” It might be a good way to make a new friend.


Conch: I remember encountering this word for the first time when I read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. If you haven’t read the story go do so now. I’ll wait. If you have read the story but it’s been a while, let me refresh your memory. British schoolboys become stranded on an island and develop their own system of self-governing (a term I use loosely). They find a conch and it becomes a symbol of who gets to speak at their meetings. Spoiler alert: entropy eventually wins (as usual). As for how to pronounce the word “conch”, do so at your own risk. Conch is one of those words that begs to be pronounced as it is spelled. This explains why many of us have a tendency to want to pronounce it as if it ends with the same sound as “lunch.” Those who live in climates warm enough to actually find this tropical marine mollusk and eat it for lunch will pronounce it with a hard (k) sound, as if it rhymes with “bonk” (which is exactly what they might be tempted to do to your head if you mispronounce this word!)


Chaise longue: Derived from the French for “long chair.” I have bad news for you if you pronounce it “chase lounge.” The proper pronunciation is like (shayz) with a long “a” as if it rhymes with days; longue is pronounced “long” and not the commonly mistaken “lounge.” I think next time I go poolside, I will just sit on my towel.

Even though language may not be your forte, use words correctly often enough and you may become known as the epitome of sophistication; no one can harass you for your use of language being a debacle! Check out 100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces to learn the proper pronunciation of the words I have italicized!

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