Founding Grammars:
How Early America's War over Words Shaped Today's Language

2015 Oregon Book Awards Finalist

What's your pet grammar peeve? Do split infinitives make you grind your teeth? Do you groan at the overuse of whom? Or is it grammatical pickiness itself that drives you crazy? Grammar can trigger even more ferocious fights than politics.

Founding Grammars gets to the roots of our grammar obsession, tracing current debates back to America's earliest days, an era when many families owned only two books—the Bible and a grammar primer. Everyone agreed that proper speech was important, but just what that meant was much more hotly contested.

The book teems with outsize historical characters on all sides of the war over words. Dictionary maker and linguistic freethinker Noah Webster, best-selling grammar book author Lindley Murray, and post-Civil War verbal critic Richard Grant White are among those who played a major role in creating the rules that have stayed with us to this day.

Founding Grammars is for curious readers who want to know where grammar rules came from and where they might go next.

Praise for Founding Grammars:

"A fanfare for the common word, a welcome reminder that American English is a language of the people, by the people, and for the people."
–Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I and coauthor of Origins of the Specious

"Well-researched and entertaining exploration of who once called the shots in American usage, and why."
–Charles Harrington Elster, author of Word Workout and The Accidents of Style

"[Shows] that grammar-pusses have been with us for centuries now while English has kept on keeping on."
–John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and What Language Is

"A good writer, upon hearing a language rule, wants to know 'who says?' Rosemarie Ostler tells us who."
–Robert Lane Greene, language writer for The Economist and author of You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws and the Politics of Identity

"Enlightening narrative of American bickering over language."
–David Skinner, author of The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

Founding Grammars book cover

"Wonderful, wonkish detail."Washington Post

"A delightful book."Baltimore Sun

"Lively and revealing."Kirkus Reviews

"Terrific."Barnes & Noble Reviews