Dr. Seth R. Katz

Associate Professor
Associate Chair
Office: Bradley Hall 383
Bradley University
  Department of English
1501 West Bradley Avenue
Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 677-2479

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Ain'thology: The History and Life of a Taboo Word.

Patricia Donaher and Seth Katz, eds.

Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.

The word ain’t is used by speakers of all dialects and sociolects of English. Nonetheless, language critics view ain’t as marking speakers as “lazy” or “stupid”; and the educated assume ain’t is on its deathbed, used only in clichés. Everyone has an opinion about ain’t. Even the grammar-checker in Microsoft Word flags every ain’t with a red underscore. But why? Over the past 100 years, only a few articles and sections of books have reviewed the history of ain’t or discussed it in dialect contexts. This first book-length collection specifically dedicated to this shibboleth provides a multifaceted analysis of ain’t in the history and grammar of English; in English speech, writing, television, comics and other media; and in relation to the minds, attitudes, and usage of speakers and writers of English from a range of regions, ethnicities, social classes, and dialect communities. Most articles in the collection are accessible for the average educated speaker, while others are directed primarily at specialists in linguistic study – but with helpful explanations and footnotes to make these articles more approachable for the layperson. This collection of articles on ain’t thus provides a broad audience with a rich understanding and appreciation of the history and life of this taboo word.

“For students of the English language, this is the most enlightening and comprehensive set of essays ever compiled on the iconic word ain’t. It brings together the multifaceted ways in which a shibboleth of language functions socially and linguistically, from its social and stylized use in a full range of situations and genres to its intricate and complex linguistic composition and patterning. An extraordinary contribution to the field!”

Walt Wolfram
William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor, North Carolina State University
“Asked what ain’t was by a foreigner, most English speakers would say it’s ‘just slang,’ a “mistake” permissible only amidst relaxation, used more widely only by the ignorant. Ain’thology sets us straight: ain’t’s history reaches back into the beginnings of English as we know it, it has often been used by thoroughly elegant persons, and it is subject to grammatical rules as complex as the ones that determine when a French person uses the subjunctive. Ain’t is so complicated that it takes legions of scholars to figure it all out, and in this book we hear from no fewer than seventeen of them.”

John McWhorter
Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
Author of The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue and The Language Hoax
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    Aging Online Publications

    I had a couple of articles in the 1997 issue of PIPA: Publication of the Illinois Philological Association: "The Poetic Use of Sentence Fragments" and, with Sarah (Stevens) Parlier, "Standard English Immersion for Native English Speakers"

    Check out my articles in Kairos: a Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments, Vol. 2 Issue #1 (Spring 1997). The articles are "One Department's Guidelines for Evaluating Computer-Related Work," an account and critique of how our department revised our Tenure and Promotion Guidelines to evaluate computer-related work; and "Tenure and Technology: New Values, New Guidelines," this issues CoverWeb Overview, which I coauthored with Janice Walker of the University of South Florida and Janet Cross of California State University-Northridge.

    Here is a hypertext copy of the Bradley University Department of English Guidelines for Tenure, Promotion, and Renewal. These guidelines include the language added in 1997 about how our department will evaluate computer-related academic work, and they are the topic of the Kairos article mentioned above.

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    Page last updated August 11, 2015.