exercises in compound storytelling

Monday, January 25, 2010

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English

I'm about halfway through Patricia T. O'Conner's grammar guide Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English.

This is a neat little book, especially for someone like me who learned English by ear and didn't realize for years that he was speaking a dialect. The author attempts to demonstrate correct English usage, deal with difficult word choices, and clarify rules, all without dealing with technical minutiae, working mostly by example. She's set herself a difficult task, not least because she's working against dictionaries that no longer attempt to describe how English should be used and what words mean, in favor of describing how English is actually used.

This is not really a book to be read; it's a book to be given and consulted, but it rewards the reader anyway. Especially a reader willing to skim.

The author has made some interesting choices, suggesting that some usages while stuffy or formal are not actually wrong.

I'm not going to make too much of this; I grew up thinking that dictionaries should be authoritative/prescriptive rather than descriptive, and like many people from my ideological neck of the woods tended to expect that in the absence of a single shining standard against which everyone should be measured chaos would rule; I can't honestly make the argument that that has happened in English usage, despite recurring dire predictions to the contrary.

Anyway, I have no idea if this book is superior to Eats, Shoots, and Leaves; I'll have to give that one a look as well.

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