Keywords : A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

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Raymond Williams' seminal exploration of the history of meaning of some of the most important words in the English language. First published in 1976, and expanded in 1983, KEYWORDS reveals how the meanings of 131 words - including 'art', 'class', 'family', 'media', 'sex' and 'tradition' - were formed and subsequently altered and redefined as the historical contexts in which they were used changed. Neither a defining dictionary or glossary, KEYWORDS is rather a brilliant investigation into how the meanings of some of the most important words in the English language have shifted over time, and the forces that brought about those more

Product details

  • Paperback | 350 pages
  • 128 x 194 x 28mm | 258.55g
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Reissued ed.
  • 0006861504
  • 9780006861508
  • 80,661

Review quote

'A revelatory unpacking of the complicated disputes that lay - dormant, as it were - within familiar words' Guardian 'Williams's essential point about the social and political stakes in simple words and phrases is as true today as it was in the 1970s: think of the many battles that have erupted around terms like "liberal," "torture," "pro-life" or "intelligent design"' New York Times 'This book is an erudite, elegant, and awful warning to anybody tempted to lay down the lexicographical law, in order to apply one authoritative fixed sense to a highly variable and controversial value word' The Times 'Keywords is useful and stimulating to all who work with words or merely love them' Wall Street Journal 'The book's greatest value, perhaps, is its exemplification of how all of us should respond to the words we hear and use: with surprise, distrust, curiosity, and unflagging vigilance' Yale Review 'An invaluable book ... A unique coda to the words of one of our most original and provocative thinkers' Harpersshow more

About Raymond Williams

An academic, and the writer of both non-fiction and fiction, Raymond Williams (1921-88) was one of the most important and influential British thinkers of the twentieth century. Williams wrote about politics, culture, mass media and literature, and his work was key to the development of cultural studies. His best-known books include 'Culture and Society', 'The Long Revolution' and 'The Country and the City'.show more

Review Text

Not a dictionary, not an etymology, not a guide to contemporary usage, this unusual study of the social and linguistic origins of "keywords" evolved, belatedly, from Williams' seminal interdisciplinary Culture and Society (1956). Williams argues that the nexus of meanings of Art, Industry, Materialism, Civilization, Community, Nature, Alienation, et al., carries within it latent ways of seeing, i.e., political, professional, or class values. Vocabulary is neither fixed nor neutral; barley or barn may be simple and exact terms, but words which involve abstractions or ideas are inescapably colored by ideology. Culture itself is perhaps the most key keyword of all and Williams painstakingly traces its intricate historical metamorphosis from husbandry to human development to social organization, citing shifts of meaning from Milton to Herder to contemporary anthropology. He differentiates his brand of historical semantics from objective idealism or the currently voguish non-historical (synchronic) structuralism. His little essays take off from Latin and Greek roots, various intellectual or academic disciplines, or literary and scientific coinages. He aims not at resolution of semantic ambiguities but at "that extra edge of consciousness." In his exploration of language, Williams gets at dynamics and nuances generally encountered only in free-wheeling compilations of slang. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

402 ratings
4.11 out of 5 stars
5 40% (159)
4 40% (160)
3 15% (60)
2 4% (17)
1 1% (6)
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