Language lessons from a master delivered masterfully: Crystal-clear.

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THE STORY OF BE

A VERB'S-EYE VIEW OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The author of numerous works about the history and uses of English returns with a brief, illuminating disquisition on the history and varied tasks of the verb “to be.”

That little buzzing verb is a word we employ in myriads of ways for myriads of reasons, from the “existential” to the “ludic”—and more. In this concise and clear account, Crystal (Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, 2017, etc.) fashions an unusual chapter organization: a description of the usage, many historical examples (Shakespeare and the Bible are prominent), some cartoons from Punch (and some created especially for this volume by cartoonist Ed McLachlan), and an occasional panel (Crystal’s term) that focuses on a related topic—e.g., the imperative form. The author’s cadre of readers will know that he is no prescriptivist. In his section on the expression “woe is me,” he emits a tiny snarl at the prescriptive approach, noting the insistence of some on “woe is I.” Nor does Crystal tear his hair or claw his face when dealing with slang and the language of texting (“textese,” he calls it). As a descriptivist, the author recognizes that railing against usage is generally pointless—grammar and usage move on (ain’t was once “correct,” he notes)—and reminds us that earlier “telegraph” generations dealt with “telegramese.” He also traces the history of each usage—many go back to Anglo-Saxon—and shows how time has, or has not, altered it. His examples range wide and include Hamlet, popular song, newspaper headlines, and novels by Dickens and Thackeray. He does not neglect former President Bill Clinton’s comment, during his sex-scandal testimony, about how “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is.” And so it does.

Language lessons from a master delivered masterfully: Crystal-clear.

Pub Date: June 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-879109-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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