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
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.
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