The Grammarphobia Blog

Reading made easy

Q: I’ve been wondering about titles with the phrase “made easy” in them. I used the construction for a tourist CD I developed in 2001. Now I see it everywhere. Was this usage around before 2001?

A: Sorry, but the use of “made easy” in titles was around well before you thought of the construction.

In fact, this participial phrase, which combines the past participle of the verb “make” plus an adjective, has been in use for hundreds of years.

It’s been especially popular in book titles, and not just contemporary ones. Take for example Joseph Moxon’s Mathematicks Made Easie: or a Mathematical Dictionary (1679).

A search of the Oxford English Dictionary turns up 17 of these titles in the 18th century alone. Here are some of them (we’ll omit the authors’ names and parts of the longer subtitles):

1702, Introduction to Astronomy, Geography, Navigation and Other Mathematical Sciences Made Easy;

1739, Geometrical Rules Made Easy for the Use of Mechanicks Concern’d in Buildings;

1747, Polygraphy; or Short-Hand Made Easy;

1751, The French Tongue Made Easy to Learners;

1790, Navigation Made Easy and Familiar to the Most Common Capacity;

1790, Mythology Made Easy: or, a New History of the Heathen Gods and Goddesses;

And that’s just a half-dozen from the 1700s! As you can see, the self-help category was alive and well in the 18th century.

By now, of course, there’s almost nothing, from tap dancing to operational calculus, that hasn’t been “made easy” in the title of some book or other. 

But reading has perhaps been “made easy” in more book titles than any other endeavor.

Starting in the early 18th century, the title Reading Made Easy was given to so many books that it became a generic noun phrase for a reading book or elementary primer, according to the OED.  

Citations from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries for the term used this way often employed dialectical spellings, such as “ready-may-deazy,” “reedy-made-eazy,” “readamadazy,” “readamadeasy,” “reada-mud-easy,” and many more.

Here are a couple of typical examples:

“A poor ignorant shoe-maker … slipped through me Readin’-med-aisy and me Spellin’-book,” from Seumas MacManus’s The Bend of the Road (1898).

“It reminds me of the king in the readamadasy who thought he could stop the sea from rising by lifting his hand,” from Gerald O’Donovan’s Vocations (1921).

And by the way, we weren’t kidding about calculus, as in Heaviside’s Operational Calculus Made Easy (1944).

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