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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

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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  • Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them
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  • The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education; 1 edition (May 22 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809225352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809225354
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 395 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #235,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is worth the 15 bucks if only for the section on quotes--it really shows how to properly construct them. Many other grammar books discuss the things we find in this book, but this author often goes a step further in his explanations. He writes, 'Semi-colons are ugly.' This is good because now we've heard something no other grammarian thought to tell us. It should be pointed out, though, that for the beginning writer there are other more practical grammar books. 'Woe is I' is one; 'English Grammar for Dummies' is another. Still, this book is a must-have for the serious writer.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Bill Walsh is the copy desk chief (business desk) for the "Washington Post." He explains his background in journalism and refers, at times, to the AP style. Don't let this mislead you. Even though a few items are related directly to newspapers (like the section on headlines and captions), the wealth of information is helpful to anyone trying to better his or her writing.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Bill Walsh, the Washington Post's copy editor for national news, is an unabashed "prescriptivist" -- someone for whom, in writing, there are things that are wrong because they've always been wrong. "Even if you think it's arrogant to condemn a perfectly understandable bit of prose as 'wrong,'" he writes, "you have to answer one big question: Do you want to look stupid?"
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.
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Format: Paperback
"Lapsing Into a Comma" is perhaps the most interesting stylebook one will find in print today. Reader's just have to beware that this is the _author's_ stylebook.
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.
Three examples:
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.
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