‘I’m Not Talking About Love’

That just doesn’t ring right, does it? It has to be “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (from Van Halen’s eponymous first album). I mention this since “ain’t” is so firmly rooted in our language despite efforts over the decades to stifle its usage (or at the very least deem it illiterate, substandard, or incorrect). Of course this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the “scandalous” Webster’s Third did things change—and not just for ain’t, but for our relationship to the language, and the idea of authority over such a thing. I’m not doing any of this justice so let me simply recommend you buy The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published (Harper, 349 pp., $26.99) written by my good friend and former colleague David Skinner. (Go ahead, right there in that Amazon box to the right, just type it in—Christmas is only 78 days away!)

And don’t just take my word for it—read the reviews by James Kelly in the Wall Street Journal and Ann Levin in the Boston Globe.

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