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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin UK (Oct. 27 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141040394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141040394
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #51,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

It is nearly 20 years since Bill Bryson first penned his deliciously witty paean to precision Troublesome Words. Now he has revised it and 60 per cent of the content is new so it's well worth another browse and a place on the desk corner of anyone who likes words and who wants to get things right.

Once a sub-editor at The Times, Bryson is irresistibly drawn to knowing that "to flaunt" means to display ostentatiously but "to flout" means to treat with contempt. Or that a straitjacket may be straight but its name means that its occupant is confined and restricted--in straitened circumstances, perhaps. And can you explain the difference between a Creole and a Pidgin or between egoism and egotism? If not consult Bryson. Then you'll be able to. There's no pedantry or pomposity in Bryson's writing. But he argues: "Just as we all agree that clarity is better served if 'cup' represents a drinking vessel and 'cap' something you put on your head, so too I think the world is a fractionally better place if we agree to preserve a distinction between 'its' and 'it's', between 'I lay down the law' and 'I lie down to sleep', between 'imply' and 'infer' and countless others."

Bryson modestly jokes that this alphabetically arranged book could be subtitled "Even More Things in English Usage That the Author Wasn't Entirely Clear about Until Quite Recently". If only most of us were sure about a fraction of the things Bryson clearly understands very well we might all be more effective writers and speakers. --Susan Elkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bestselling author Bryson's latest book is really his first: this guide to usage, spelling and grammar was first published in 1983 when Bryson (In a Sunburned Country, etc.) was an unknown copyeditor at the London Times, and has now been revised and updated for use in the U.S. Alphabetically arranged entries include commonly misspelled and misused words. He also includes common problems with grammar, as well as an appendix on punctuation. Bryson often cites the 1983 edition of H.W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage as an authority, though he also makes a handful of references to recent texts, such as the Encarta World English Dictionary and Atlantic Monthly columnist Barbara Wallraff's "Word Court." Despite the revisions, the book often betrays its origins as a British text, as in citing words in common usage throughout the U.K. and British Commonwealth, but rarely used by American writers, such as Taoiseach, the Prime Minister of Ireland or City of London vs. city of London. In addition, Bryson avoids taking on computer lingo, such as distinguishing between the Internet and the World Wide Web. Despite these shortcomings, Bryson's erudition is evident and refreshing. His passage on split infinitives, for example, asserts that it is "a rhetorical fault a question of style and not a grammatical one." Readers looking for the author's trademark humor will not find it here. Instead they will find a straightforward, concise, utilitarian guide, albeit one listing Bryson's "suggestions, observations, and even treasured prejudices" on newspaper writing primarily in Britain, circa 1983.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By I. Dobson on Feb. 20 2008
Format: Paperback
Written in the form of a dictionary but with only a fraction of the words, this book was fascinating from beginning to end. The author has chosen a selection of words in common english usage that are either spelled incorrectly or used inappropriately, with many examples from the popular press. This is the type of book you can pick up from time to time and just read a few pages or read in its entirety on an annual basis. I was amazed at how many words I've been using in the wrong context or just misspelled. Educational without being pedantic, Bryson injects his dry wit on every page. Under the entry for "barbecue" he simply writes - "Any journalist or other formal user of English who believes that the word is spelled barbeque is not ready for unsupervised employment." It is an essential text for any writer or critical reader of English.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "serracus" on Feb. 22 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is entitled either plain "Troublesome Words" or in older editions, "The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words".
For most of us non-Grammarians whose English is instinctive rather than based on intimate knowledge of linguistic rules, trying to improve our English by reading books in grammar or English usage can be quite an ordeal, as most of them are dry and technical. Bill Bryson's book is slim (192 pages in my edition), palatable and great fun. Alphabetically, Mr Bryson sets out the most common mistakes in English spelling, grammar and usage which he has come across. Most of the more obvious "troublesome words" are covered succinctly, clearly and with lashings of humour. Examples: "VERY should be made to pay its way in sentences"; "VARIOUS DIFFERENT is inescapably redundant"; "The Oxford English Dictionary contains 414,825 words. IRREGARDLESS is not one of them." At the end of the book is a section on punctuation. Illustrations of correct and incorrect usage are helpfully given. What adds to the fun is that most illustrations of wrong usage are taken from leading US and UK newspapers and periodicals, and even occasionally from an authority on the language; how nice to see their feet of clay. Another point in this book's favour; Mr Bryson being an American who has spent much of his professional life in the British journalistic profession, sees things from both sides of the Atlantic and does not have an overt bias one way or the other. (Unlike many British who have an almost hysterical aversion to Americanisms.)
While admirable and enjoyable, this book is too short and too personal to serve as a good reference. If you have a particular problem, it may or may not be addressed in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kali on Sept. 23 2000
Format: Paperback
I got this book from a thrift shop. It was the best $2.00 I have ever spent. If you are a person who likes to write a lot then this book should be beside your computer or word processor. Bryson shows you how to properly use the more troublesome words in the English vocabulary that often leaves us stumped and confused. I enjoyed flicking through it (I am a bit of a word buff) just for fun and it is a lot easier to use than a dictionary which does not tell you in what context to put certain words such as "affect" and "effect" to name just two. However this book DOES NOT replace a dictionary, rather it complements it, so for all your word buffs, go and get this book, it's a real eye opener...well it is if you like the English Language and all the silly things we do with it!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bill Bryson does it again, following The Mother Tongue tour-de-force: an entertaining,instructive mixture of who knew? moments with confirmation of the known and familiar. Altogether satisfying to anyone who enjoys exploring the intricacies of the English language.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 68 reviews
177 of 183 people found the following review helpful
A useful, and highly personal, reference March 6 2003
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Not to gild the lily, this is to all intents and purposes a basically good book. Hopefully, it will be utilized to put an end to grammatical and usage errors, as well as misuse of apostrophe's, "quotation marks" and other punctuation.

If that paragraph above does not give you the dry heaves, you need to read Bill Bryson's "Dictionary."

Unfortunately, much as I enjoyed this book, I'm afraid it will appeal primarily to people who already know a lot of this information, instead of to the many who would benefit from reading it. And that's too bad ("The belief that *and* should not be used to begin a sentence is without foundation. And that's all there is to it." [p. 13]).

As Bryson notes, this book is not a style or usage guide. For that, I would recommend Fowler and Wallraff, sources Bryson often cites, and especially Bill Walsh's Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them. What this book does provide is a useful guide to clarity of expression through precise use of language. While many people may not know, or care, about the distinctions between "lectern," "podium," "dais," and "rostrum" (p. 119), for example, the distinctions are nevertheless important, and Bryson helps nail them down.

He makes the important point that English is a language without a governing authority. Tradition and usage define what's proper. Language is evolutionary -- an example, as Hayek noted, of spontaneous order. However, it's possible to take this idea too far. In the Introduction (a passage quoted on the back cover as well), Bryson says, "If you wish to say 'between you and I' or to use *fulsome* in the sense of lavish, it is your privilege to do so...". I'm not certain this is the sort of advice people necessarily need to hear, unless of course you add the important corollary that the rest of us have the privilege of considering you an idiot for doing so.

Apart from that, though, this is an entertaining as well as useful read, and one I encourage writers both professional and casual to keep handy.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
An Interesting Reference Book Sept. 24 2002
By Paul N. Walton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words is a fun read for word enthusiasts. Written in his usual humorous style, it is full of interesting and in many cases unusual examples of correct English usage, as well as the basics, such as the difference between less and fewer for the surprisingly many that still don't know. Well worth having in your personal reference library.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
A Great Book for All Those Tricky Words July 6 2003
By Stephen J. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book that every serious writer should have in his or her collection. It is an excellent insight into the English language from "a" to "zoom." This book is an update of the 1983 version, and has been substantially improved both in length and in quality.
Bryson's Dictionary is useful when you want to decide whether to use "lay" or "lie," to know the plural of "faux pas," to spell the word "rottweiler," or any of a number of other confusing aspects of the English language.
In addition to the dictionary, the appendix has some rules of getting your punctuation right, which is followed by a bibliography and list for suggested reading (in case this book inspires you to go even deeper into the intricacies of the English language).
My only complaint is that there are some words that I would have liked to see included, but of course it would be impossible to write a book with every single confusing word.
Nonetheless, this book is an invaluable resource to anyone who enjoys writing and enjoys writing well.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
An enjoyable reference not just for editors Jan. 12 2005
By Jon H. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you are one of those people who actually care about your writing, then this book is for you. I picked up a copy recently at a bookstore and I've browsed through most of it. I'm embarrassed to say that I found a few words that I had been using incorrectly!

I don't know if I'd really use this book over a 'real' dictionary, but I would definitely consider it if I'm unsure of a definition or the proper usage of a word. I expect that I'll be reviewing this book occasionally to make sure that there isn't some word that I'm slipping up on.

If you are self conscious and concerned about your writing, then pick up this valuable resource. I guarantee you'll be able to find something in the book that you haven't been using properly or misspelling (if that's not the case, then congratulations).
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A Fun Guide to Good English Feb. 22 2001
By "serracus" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is entitled either plain "Troublesome Words" or in older editions, "The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words".
For most of us non-Grammarians whose English is instinctive rather than based on intimate knowledge of linguistic rules, trying to improve our English by reading books in grammar or English usage can be quite an ordeal, as most of them are dry and technical. Bill Bryson's book is slim (192 pages in my edition), palatable and great fun. Alphabetically, Mr Bryson sets out the most common mistakes in English spelling, grammar and usage which he has come across. Most of the more obvious "troublesome words" are covered succinctly, clearly and with lashings of humour. Examples: "VERY should be made to pay its way in sentences"; "VARIOUS DIFFERENT is inescapably redundant"; "The Oxford English Dictionary contains 414,825 words. IRREGARDLESS is not one of them." At the end of the book is a section on punctuation. Illustrations of correct and incorrect usage are helpfully given. What adds to the fun is that most illustrations of wrong usage are taken from leading US and UK newspapers and periodicals, and even occasionally from an authority on the language; how nice to see their feet of clay. Another point in this book's favour; Mr Bryson being an American who has spent much of his professional life in the British journalistic profession, sees things from both sides of the Atlantic and does not have an overt bias one way or the other. (Unlike many British who have an almost hysterical aversion to Americanisms.)
While admirable and enjoyable, this book is too short and too personal to serve as a good reference. If you have a particular problem, it may or may not be addressed in this book. (This lack of comprehensiveness is why I give this four stars instead of five.) Nonetheless, anyone who studies and takes to heart the contents of this book will undoubtedly improve his English and will do his tiny part to stem the tide of sloppy and plain bad English which threatens to swamp us all today. It is a shame this book is out of print. I would love to send a copy to every journalist I know.
Finally, I must tell of how my edition of this book unwittingly demonstrates the pervasiveness of bad English and the desperation of the good fight against it. Mr Bryson says "FULSOME is one of the most frequently misused words in English. The sense that is usually accorded it - of being copious or lavish or unstinting - is almost the opposite of the word's dictionary meaning. FULSOME is related to FOUL and means odious and overfull, offensively insincere. 'Fulsome praise', properly used, isn't a lavish tribute; it is unctuous and insincere toadying." In my edition (1997 reissue of the second edition), the back page quotes the Guardian (a leading UK newspaper, for Americans who may not know), as saying "Deserves fulsome praise. Its merit is that it is trying to equate the rules prescribed by good English with the demands of the general consensus." Oh dear, indeed. Sabotaged by one's own publisher.


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