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Troublesome Words [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 27 2009
Is it whodunnit or whodunit? Do you know? Are you sure?

Coming to your rescue is bestselling author Bill Bryson with his clear, concise and entertaining guide to problems of English usage and spelling. It has been an indispensable companion to those who work with the written word for over twenty years.

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'Combines the virtues of a first class work of reference with the pleasure of a good read' The Times

About the Author

Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, and won the Aventis Prize for Science Books and the Descartes Science Communication Prize. His latest book is Shakespeare: The World as a Stage.

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Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Word lovers bible Feb. 20 2008
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fun Guide to Good English Feb. 22 2001
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Troublesome Words a delight Jan. 5 2014
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good book to have alongside a Dictionary Sept. 23 2000
By Kali
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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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  57 reviews
171 of 176 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful, and highly personal, reference March 6 2003
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
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.
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Reference Book Sept. 24 2002
By Paul N. Walton - Published on Amazon.com
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.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book for All Those Tricky Words July 6 2003
By Stephen J. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
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
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable reference not just for editors Jan. 12 2005
By J. Harbaugh - Published on Amazon.com
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).
59 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is there a concensus of opinion on this book . . . ? Aug. 15 2003
By Michael K. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
As a freelance book editor for the past two decades, I'm one of that rather small, self-selected group of people who are likely to read grammar texts and style guides for pleasure. My copies of Follett and Patridge are well-thumbed, but I'm always willing to peruse a new effort. Bryson started out as a copyeditor for the Times of London, and was the compiler of _The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words_ (of which this is actually a 2d edition), and he has a proven and felicitous writing style, so the book is both useful and a pleasure to read. Which is not to say that I don't have some nits to pick. Some of the problems he addresses are obvious, like the increasingly common disregard for the difference between "its" and "it's," and the bugbear of ending a sentence with a preposition. Then there are less commonly discussed screw-ups that, personally, make me wince when I hear or read them, like a car having a "collision" with a tree, or something being in "close proximity" with something else, or the difference between a "meteor" and a "meteorite," or the insistence that "noisome" has something to do with noise. And he handles all of those well and wittily. But many other entries seem to be spacefillers or else were carried over from a much more specialized list from his newspaper days. For instance, I've never had occasion to worry about the proper spelling of the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, or the Welsh word "eisteddfod." And how many writers confuse "cord" and "chord"? And an author or editor is expected to check the spelling of names like "coelacanth" and Amelia "Earhart" and "Alfa-Romeo" and "Meriwether" Lewis anyway. I can also think of a number of commonly misused words and terms that Bryson did not include, and for which a discussion would have been useful, such as the colloquial use of "ain't," and why "bugbear" has nothing to do with wildlife. I won't be adding this one to my ready-reference shelf, but it's worth a read.
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