George Bernard Shaw, from Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) was the youngest child of what we would now call a dysfunctional family. Although he was born in Dublin and spoke with an Irish accent, he liked the city only cordially, and having left it for London in 1876, returned only fleetingly. Shaw was a critic before he was a playwright, novelist, and essayist, producing music reviews first as a ghost writer and later as "Basso Profundo." His numerous plays include Pygmalion, Widows' Houses, Mrs Warren's Profession, Major Barbara, Saint Joan, and Arms and the Man.

In the classical myth Shaw's most famous play Pygmalion retells, an artist falls in love with his creation, a beautiful woman of marble, to which Venus grants life. In Shaw's version, the setting is London and the artist is a curmudgeonly linguist who transforms his "creation" from a poor flower girl into a lady, or the semblance of one, by teaching her to speak standard English rather than an East End (of London) dialect. Henry Higgins does not fall in love with Eliza Doolittle, and Shaw stressed that this was not a romantic story.

George Bernard Shaw had firm and advanced opinions about language, including that the apostrophe was redundant in most cases, as can be seen in the excerpts from Pygmalion (1916) available at


Excerpts from Pygmalion (1916).

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