Sunday, September 29, 2019

Book Review: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer (audio)

The head of Random House's copyediting department has written a definitive book on his opinions, tips, and some fun facts about the super-quirky English language. Every aspiring writer should read this for his advice on tightening language and clarity, and also, should they be so lucky as to one day be published, to understand the editorial and especially the copyediting process better. I worked with authors over the years who took copyediting personally, as if the copyeditor, who has never met you, is insulting you by pointing out that no one has ever drunk coffee from a Styrofoam cup, as Styrofoam (a trademarked name, hence the capitalization) is a rigid pink insulation used in roofing. What you call a styrofoam cup is in fact a polystyrene cup. No insult is meant here--it's just a fact.

I was thrilled to have yet another expert go on the record that yes, you can split infinitives and yes, you can drop prepositions at the end of a sentence, and those are not grammatical errors at all. Just because a grammar loon 100 years ago made up those rules, doesn't make them correct. (And yes, I really mean "made up." Please drop those bugaboos right now.) He makes an excellent case for completely discontinuing the use of the pejorative "grammar Nazi" which is a way over-the-top insult to those who like grammar and simultaneously it degrades the atrocities committed by the Nazis as comparable to grammar mistakes. Done. I won't ever use that again.

I also learned a ton of fun trivia throughout, Such as that the word Onesie is a trademark owned by Gerber. Fine. But if there's a trademarked term, than there must be a generic term. Gerber claims the generic term is either "diaper shirt" or "infant bodysuit" which are both patently absurd (and hilarious) suggestions.

Listening to the audio was enjoyable, but take care--the last half is a series of lists of words. Each word does have a little explanation or definition, so it's not truly just a list of words, but it's something you'd probably skim in print, and on audio, where you can't skim, it can be a bit much in a large block, so that part is best listened to in a series of smaller chunks of time.

And yes, the serial comma is the only way to go (you might know it as the Oxford comma, but as Oxford hasn't used it in decades, I think that should be phased out.) I quibble with him calling it the "series comma" but I think we can agree to disagree on that point and otherwise be friends.

I borrowed this digital audiobook from my local library via Overdrive/Libby.

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