The Prodigal Tongue

Pages: 368
Subject: Literature, Anthropology
Imprint: Oneworld

The Prodigal Tongue

The Love–Hate Relationship Between British and American English

Lynne Murphy

A laugh-out-loud dissection of the linguistic myths surrounding British and American English
9781786072696 (29 Mar 2018)
RRP £16.99

The Book

The English language is a beautiful thing, but it suffers under relentless assault from Americans who want nothing more than to corrupt the mother tongue.

Well, that's what we're told.

But what's the truth?

And whose language is it anyway?

Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in England, dives into the war of words being waged over the Atlantic. In a laugh-out-loud report, she separates reality from myth in this special relationship and delves into the social and political forces that have seen British and American English part ways. From the origins of ‘the bee's knees' to why so many of Hollywood's evil geniuses sound as though they were educated at Oxford, The Prodigal Tongue reveals how our language really works and tells us where it's going.

Additional Information

Subject Literature, Anthropology
Pages 368
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Lynne Murphy is a professor in linguistics at the University of Sussex. She blogs at and tweets @lynneguist. A dual British/American citizen, she lives in Brighton.


‘I love this book. Sassy but balanced, authoritative but fun: this is a must for anyone who fears that English is going to the American dogs.'

- Susie Dent, Countdown’s resident lexicographer and author of Dent’s Modern Tribes

‘Forget the usual bumbershoots and lifts and lorries - Lynne Murphy's book on the difference between English in America and English in England is full of much more interesting things… You'll be chuffed as nuts on every page.'

- John McWhorter, author of Words On the Move and Talking Back, Talking Black

The Prodigal Tongue is great fun - impeccably researched and outright funny at the same time… Murphy is one smart cookie, or should I say biscuit?'

- Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I

‘The war of words waged between Americans and Brits has been filled with dour pedantry on both sides - which is what makes Murphy's book such a welcome and refreshing revelation… With wit and expertise, The Prodigal Tongue calls all English speakers home to a language big enough for both fries and chips, bumbershoots and brollies.'

- Kory Stamper, author of Word by Word

‘No one knows how to navigate the transatlantic language divide better than Lynne Murphy. Moving beyond facile stereotypes about British and American English, she delves into subtle linguistic nuances with wit and aplomb. The Prodigal Tongue is a wonderful reading experience for anyone interested in understanding the true nature of these two distinct "nationlects”.'

- Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal