Monday, November 9, 2020

How The Pitfalls Of Language Can Confuse Authors


Any one who uses words for a living knows how complex the English language can be. There are so many rules – and exceptions to these rules! How is one, even an author, supposed to master the language?


A great helper would be to read Have You Eaten Grandma? Or, The Life-Saving Importance Of Current Punctuation, Grammar, And Good English. Author Gyles Brandreth, a writer, broadcaster, actor, former member of Parliament, and the chancellor of a UK university, uses wit and clarity to help us learn, remember, and properly obey the rules of the language.


“Our language is changing, literary levels are declining, and our grasp of grammar is at a crisis point,” reads the book’s flap. “From commas to colons, apostrophes to adverbs, there are countless ways we can make mistakes when expressing ourselves on the page. But do not despair!”


We all could benefit from a friendly tune-up, especially from what is represented here in 300 compact pages. After all, as the author says, “Language is power, and how we use it defines us… Language is also what makes us human… and since the way we use language tells us the world so much about us, it’s worth getting it right.”


So why is our language all screwed up? Try:


·         Ebonics

·         Spanglish

·         Social media

·         Donald Trump

·         Lousy teaching

·         Parents with poor language skills

·         Internetspeak


But we should be doing better to preserve and use the language appropriately. “It’s the richest language in the world,” says the author of what’s become an international bestseller.


“It’s our heritage – and our hope. All the research shows that the better the English you speak and write, the happier and more successful you will be.”


The book demonstrates time and again how a piece of punctuation, a letter or word, by position or omission, can make a huge difference in what we are communicating. Just look at the book’s title: Have You Eaten Grandma? Put a comma after eaten and you ask a way different question.


“Punctuation is essential to clear communication,” writes Brandruth. “Without punctuation no one knows what’s going on. When you are expressing yourself out loud, the way you phrase what you are saying implies the punctuation you are using.”


Some of the examples used in his book say a lot. For instance, he shows a bus station sign that reads: “Toilets Only For Disabled Pregnant Children.” This sounds like only one type of person can use the bathroom. Throw in some commas and now you have a different story.


“When you are expressing yourself on the page, or computer screen, to make your intentions clear, to avoid ambiguity and confusion, you need punctuation,” the author says. “And the good news is: there are only a dozen or so punctuation marks, and mastering their correct usage is a breeze.”


Our language is riddled with opportunities to get it wrong. Witness these areas that are commonly misused:


·         Spelling

·         Capitalization

·         Pluralization

·         Contractions

·         Compound words

·         Prefix usage

·         I before e except after c

·         Silent Letters

·         Suffix rules

·         British vs. American English

·         Heterophones

·         Homographs

·         Slang

·         Abbreviations, Acronyms, and shorthand


The last 17 pages of the book are like linguistic fireworks, filled with guidance for good communication. He included the “rules” of famous writers, including:


George Orwell

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”

“If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

“Never use the passive where you can use the active.”


William Safire

“Don’t use no double negatives.”

“And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.”

“Avoid annoying alliteration.”


Brandruth leaves us with his rules, the five A’s:


Be accurate – avoid confusion.

Be ambitious – increase your word power.

Be adventurous – use different words and use them differently.

Be accepting – language is always changing, so accept it.

Be aware – think about what you say and how it will be received and understood by others.


So, are you ready to tackle subordinate clauses, pronouns, intransitive verbs, and definite articles? Well, at least begin by not eating grandma -- and go from there!



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Brian Feinblum, the founder of BookMarketingBuzzBlog, can be reached at  His insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are the product of his genius. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby 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.

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