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Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English.

Patricia T. O'Conner, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, tells us English is not easy, as languages go. It originated 1500 years ago when Germanic tribes (mainly Angles and Saxons) invaded Britain, a Celtic-speaking land already colonized by Latin-speaking Romans. Into this Anglo-Saxon broth went dollops of French, Italian, Spanish, German, Danish, Greek, and more Latin. Within a few hundred years, English was an extraordinarily complex stew. Today it's believed to have the largest lexicon (that is, the most words) of any modern language - and it's still evolving.

Woe is I offers an amusing but sensible approach to English grammar for intelligent people who probably have never diagrammed a sentence and never will. (For those interested, a glossary of grammatical terms is provided.) Its chapters include "Therapy for pronoun anxiety," "The possessives and the possessed," "The joy of punctuation," and "How to say what you mean." Its advice includes not saying things like:

"Come to lunch with the boss and I."

"Who forgot their umbrella."

"Before the age of two, a mother's place is in the home."

You will be warned against cliches such as "by hook or by crook," "meaningful dialogue," and "seriously consider." And you will learn to distinguish between "e.g." and "i.e.," "disinterested" and "uninterested," and "discreet" and "discrete." For those who want to write clearly the author suggests that you say what you have to say and stop when you've said it; put descriptions close to what they describe; and don't make yourself the center of the universe.

O'Conner reminds us that the laws of grammar come and go. English today isn't what it was a hundred years ago, and it's not what it will be a hundred years from now. For the present, if you want to know if you can split an infinitive, end a sentence with a preposition, start a sentence with "and" or "but," or use a double negative then this book is for you.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Institute of General Semantics
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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