A veteran copy editor debuts with an account of his beliefs, preferences, and peeves about contemporary English grammar and usage.
Dreyer—vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief at Random House—rehearses a bit of his personal history with the copy editing profession and then takes us on a journey to the many major and minor isles of written English. In most ways, the author is not an Ahab-ian captain. He recognizes the arbitrary nature of many of our “rules” (after all, we made up most of this stuff). Early on, he explains the silliness of our adherence to such things as never splitting infinitives, never starting sentences with “But” or “And,” never ending sentences with prepositions. Soon, however, Dreyer begins to list specific dos and don’ts, instructing us on the uses of commas, colons, parentheses, and quotation marks. He pauses to explain the difference between an en- and an em-dash, between “who” and “whom,” and “lie” and “lay.” He also has some fun with dangling modifiers. In fact, Dreyer has fun throughout, exhibiting a light tone and a sly sense of humor. He could not resist, when reminding us of the difference between “hanged” and “hung,” that some men are, indeed, hung. He thinks we are losing the battle against “alright” and doesn’t really observe the difference between “nauseated” and “nauseous,” but he does like the distinction between “each other” and “one another.” Also included are some sections on the correct spelling of proper names and on the use of the word Frankenstein (the creator, not the creature). He wryly reminds us that “clichés should be avoided like the plague” and that we really shouldn’t trust internet memes as a source for authentic quotations.
A pleasant voyage with a genial, worthy captain—though we do sail to many places we have been before.