Friday, February 5, 2010

Woe Is I.

 [Originally posted at Curtin's Corner, Jan 18]

Following a recent back-and-forth on a private email list with my friend Lew Bryson (he appears more often than is probably wise in the tales I weave over here; note that there is some evidence that he is merely a figment of my imagination), I became somewhat uncomfortable.

No, not from talking with Bryson---I have pills for that---but with my feeling that, during our exchange which touched on such arcane aspects of acceptable grammar as the proper use of possessive pronouns with non-determinate antecedents and the confusion caused by dangling participles, I had perhaps become what I never planned to be, a hide-bound old fogey.

Thus, when I came across a review of the book whose title graces this posting in the morning paper, I checked it out and read this in the Publisher's Notes:
Former New York Times Book Review editor and linguistic expert O'Conner (Words Fail Me, You Send Me) updates her bestselling guide to grammar, an invigorating and entertaining dissection of our ever-evolving language. In this third edition, O'Conner guides readers through conversational conundrums with aplomb, filling in not only the logic behind the appropriate choice for, say, possessives, but also explaining such oddities as the spelling of restaurateur (instead of a "restauranteur"), the proper pronunciation of prix fix ("pree feeks") and a slew of mnemonic devices to help amateur grammarians keep ifs, ands and buts in check. It's these small digressions that make the book so readable, even for those with a deep-seated hatred for grammatical do-goodery. O'Conner gleefully eviscerates poor sentence construction and dangling participles, soothes verb tension and debunks the frequently intimidating semicolon with finesse. Tempered with a heavy dose of wit (reaching its nadir in her chapter on clichés), O'Conner's lively treatise is as vital as a dictionary for those who wish to be taken seriously in speech, in print or on Facebook.
I have now ordered a copy of same and will likely be discussing it here in due time.

While I understand that the intricacies of grammar and the question of how the evolution of language in an era of diminished standards might hinder or even render useless the meaning of words is not what you signed up for here, everything does come with a price.

Besides, there is the Great Mystery which you may get to help unravel...

Lew Bryson, Real or Imaginary?

Also, don't head for the exits. We locked the doors.

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