Sunday, October 20, 2019

How To Stop Abusing The English Language

Image result for English images

It’s been unfortunately, a well-documented sport to point out how society’s mastery of the English language is weakening and on course for total destruction.  But if you’re trying to find your way through uncapitalized email exchanges, incorrectly spelled words, or just plain abuses in how we communicate, look no further than a handy book by Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer’s English:  An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.

Dreyer, in case you’re wondering who he is, serves as the copy chief for Random House.

So how does he figure out how our language should be written?  He says it needs to literally sound better.

“One of the best ways to determine whether your prose is well-constructed is to read it aloud,” he writes. “A sentence that can’t be readily voiced is a sentence that likely needs to be rewritten.

“A good sentence, I find myself saying frequently, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection.”

He has some very useful sections, each identifying rules that need to be followed, though sometimes approving of some rule violations. 

Here are his “big three” rules:

·         Never begin a sentence with “and” or “but.”
·         Never split an infinitive.
·         Never end a sentence with a preposition.

His other seven pet peeves:

·         No contractions in formal writing.
·         Avoid the passive voice.
·         Sentence fragments are bad.
·         A person must be a “who.”
·         “None” is singular.
·         “Whether” must never be accompanied by “or not.”
·         Never introduce a list with “like.”

He writes extensively of 67 things to do or avoid when it comes to punctuation, noting:

“If words are the flesh, muscle, and bone of prose, punctuation is the breath.  In support of the words you’ve carefully selected, punctuation is your best means of conveying to the reader how you mean your writing to be read, how you mean for it to sound. A comma, sounds different than a semi-colon; parenthesis make a different noise than dashes.”

His section on misspelled words includes ones we often screw up, including:

·         Dumbbell
·         Fascist
·         Minuscule
·         Inoculate
·         Pharaoh
·         Pejorative
·         Sacrilegious
·         Restaurateur
·         Surpersede
·         Taillight
·         Unwieldy
·         Y’all

His chapter on misused or misunderstood words was excellent.  People need to know the difference between disinterested and uninterested, as well as fewer than and less than.  Some are nonplussed by that word, while others don’t properly use the word penultimate.  There’s always confusion with affect/effect, a lot and allot, any more and anymore, conscience and conscious, eminent and imminent, and so on. Even now you’re wondering if you know the difference between flack and flak, farther and further, or hanged and hung.

In addition to covering proper things such as capitalization, how stupider is actually a word, and why clichés should be avoided like the plague. Dreyer does a nice job of showing us how to trim unneeded words.  We can certainly follow this advice:

·         close proximity (close is not needed)
·         ATM machine (machine is not needed)
·         advance planning (ditch advance)
·         end result (end is not needed)
·         fall down (get rid of down)
·         lift up (eliminate up)
·         future plans (future can be dismissed)
·         overexaggerate (over is unnecessary)
·         undergraduate student (student is not needed)

Some of the resources Dreyer follows and recommends include these:

Any book on language, especially one that tries to teach us how to speak properly, can be dry or feel like a lecture but this book was punchy and personable.  We all make silly mistakes.  A good reading of this book – and repeated references to it – could serve each of us well.

“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”
--Gretchen Rubin

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

“I’d rather regret the things I have done than the things that I haven’t.”
--Lucille Ball

“I hate reality but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.”

--Woody Allen

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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