Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them Paperback – May 22 2000
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Who knew a stylebook could be so much fun? For lovers of language, Lapsing Into a Comma is a sensible and very funny guide to the technicalities of writing and copy editing. Author Bill Walsh, chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post, humorously discusses the changing rules of proper print style in the information age. Is it "e-mail" or "email"? According to established grammatical rules, it should be e-mail, but in common practice, we often use email (which should be pronounced "uhmail," but we all know not to do that). Therefore, email is OK.
Walsh does not advocate tossing your AP Stylebook, but he does encourage using your head and not blindly adhering to formal rules. "A finely tuned ear is at least as important as formal grammar," he says, "and that's not something you can acquire by memorizing a stylebook." What about companies that use punctuation in their logos? Walsh cautions against confusing a logo with a name. You wouldn't use "Tech Stock Surge Boosts Yahoo!" as a headline unless you wrote for a very excitable newspaper. And then there's arbitrary capitalization. "The dot-com era has leveled a wall that Adidas and K.D. Lang and Thirtysomething had already cracked," says Walsh, "and suddenly writers and editors faced with a name are asking, "Is that capitalized?"--a question that's about as appropriate as asking a 5-year-old, 'Do you want that Coke with or without rum?'"
The first half of Lapsing Into a Comma zips along, making you think about the intricacies of grammar and editing--all while trying not to choke on laughter. The second half is Walsh's personally crafted style guide. Remember--Roommate: Two m's, unless you ate a room or mated with a roo. --Dana Van Nest
From Library Journal
This style manual is meant to serve as a companion to the Associated Press style manual. And what Walsh, copy desk chief at Washington Post, adds to Style is styleDthe element that the ever precise and dry traditional manuals often lack. Walsh's acerbic tone adds humor to the dry distinctions between "there, their, and they're," which never hurts and may, in fact, contribute to permanent retention. Taking on the web's contributions to slang, such as the prefix "e-" before mail and business, Walsh strikes frequent compromises between traditional style and contemporary usage and concisely explains correct pronunciations and proper definitions of words frequently used incorrectly. A few of the examples of common incorrect usage apply primarily to news reportage, but most have broader application. Those who like curmudgeonly humor find Walsh's writing method rather amusing. A good title for public and college libraries, especially those with the AP style manual.DRobert Moore, Raytheon, Sudbury, MA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is also annoying for several reasons. This notion that funny makes things more learnable has gotten way out of control. I want to go back to this book time and again but cringe at reading the same joke over and over. I also find the author's relentless name-dropping distracting. How can I concentrate when he's always going on about Nicole and OJ, Muhammad Ali, Newt Gringrich, et al? Then there's the subtle humor he's wont to use to make a point that's often too subtle--you need an extra second or too to deduce the gag.
In sum, the author obviously has a lot to share with us but overdoes the personality thing. When I want hip, subtle, and scads of personality I'll watch 'Friends,' I don't want to see all this in my grammar books.
With many grammar textbooks, the reader tries to understand correct grammar and punctuation with rules explained in a confusing manner. The reader will re-read the rule a few times just get the basic idea. In Walsh's book, I found the explanations clear, witty, and helpful. I found his explanations and examples help me in developing my ear for proper grammar.
In the latter half of the book, Walsh has a stylebook with many common errors in writing. Granted, some are so specific that I don't know if they would help me (like knowing that it is Elisabeth Shue and not Elizabeth Shue). Nonetheless, I feel stronger about my grammar skills after reading this book.
I would recommend this book to all people wishing to improve their grammar skills.
With "The Elephants of Style" you'll reduce the chance of sounding stupid, increase the likelihood that your writing will have style -- or, as Walsh puts it, FLAIR! ELAN! PANACHE! -- and have a lot of fun. "The Elephants of Style" is the rare book about writing and style that you may (as I did) read from cover to cover for sheer pleasure -- like the pleasure of learning that "the New York train station is Grand Central Terminal," but "Grand Central Station remains the correct expression for mothers yelling at their kids about running in and out of the kitchen."
I'll admit it: I'm one of those lovers of English who has shelves full of books about writing and the use of our language. I regularly read Walsh's website "The Slot: A Spot for Copy Editors," and I also purchased his first book, "Lapsing Into a Comma," which also was a delight. "Lapsing" was aimed at an audience of more sophisticated word users or, as Walah says, was written for editors and writers. "Elephants of Style," he says, was written for writers and editors. It will benefit everyone, I say, from professional writers and editors to middle-school English students. I recommend it highly.
You'll find the usual suspects here with clear explanations about how to handle them. Punctuation, grammar and spelling are all covered, from the use of commas to the proper spelling of some famous individuals. The latter is one example of how different this book is. Knowing the proper spelling of Nicolas Cage's name might be entertaining and useful to those working for a newspaper, but I'm not sure it makes for a better reference book.
Some of the "rules" presented here will invariably be treated arbitrarily by the public. Some rules we follow, others just don't sound correct when we speak them so we move on. And sometimes what we think we know is not true at all.
Walsh makes the grammatically correct point that sports teams (or rock bands) with singular names (e.g. The Who, The Orlando Magic, etc.) must be combined with singular verbs. He argues that this is subject-verb agreement. While that is true, people simply don't think this way. The Magic are a team full of individuals. (See, I just made the "mistake" in the previous sentence! I did it without thought.) People don't think of the Magic as a he. They think of the Magic as a them. Just like the Yankees. Walsh dismisses these concerns, but he's ultimately spitting into the wind. People don't talk or think in this manner, subject-verb agreement or no. Fifty years from now someone writing about grammar will lament the fact that no one follows this rule. Get over it.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Whether you're editing your own writing or someone else's, you will find Lapsing Into a Comma an invaluable and entertaining resource. Read morePublished on May 28 2004 by B. Viberg
Bill Walsh does a great service to the English language by building a potent barricade in the war against imprecision, obfuscation and outright misuse. Read morePublished on March 15 2004 by Amazon Customer
I thought I knew English grammar inside and out until my father-in-law got me this book. Not only have I learned many new things about grammar and good writing, but I've been... Read morePublished on Nov. 30 2003 by Robert G
Walsh makes many fine points about style in writing, particularly writing for a newspaper. But his smartypants humor wears thin very quickly. Read morePublished on Feb. 3 2003 by J Scott Morrison
'Lapsing Into a Comma' is one of the best grammar books on the market today. You can almost hear the sarcasm in his voice as he talks about people with annoying grammar habits! Read morePublished on Nov. 1 2002
I just ordered this book. I recently heard about it at the author's website and had to have it.
It was money well spent. Read more
I've bought a lot of grammar books; generally, they help me get to sleep. Walsh had me laughing out loud at 2:00 a.m. - not with contrived examples, but with terrible truths. Read morePublished on May 30 2002 by Karen Bledsoe
It's refreshing to see a style guide that doesn't take itself so seriously! Bill Walsh gives witty, clever, and most importantly, CLEAR guidance on how to communicate effectively. Read morePublished on Dec 26 2001
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