A Little Light Reading

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a linguistic purist. I don’t know exactly where this obsession originated, but I’m one of those folks for whom the proper use of the English language — or at least use indicative of a moderate level of literacy — is a must. Oh, I’m far from perfect, but I like to think I have a fairly comprehensive grasp of my native tongue. A nasty side-effect of my linguistic outlook is that I’m inordinately irritated by errors that seem (to me, anyway) to be the result of laziness rather than simple ignorance of English’s subtle nuances; I’m more forgiving in casual conversation, but in published work I am absolutely merciless (with Web publication falling somewhere in the middle).

So I was singularly pleased when Pam brought home a book from the library that I’m sure would have elicited groans from most people: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, by Bill Bryson. It covers everything from common grammatical errors to frequently mixed-up word pairs (“apprise” versus “appraise,” for example). It’s kind of a shame that those who could most benefit from a work like this will probably never read it. I, on the other hand, read it from cover to cover, and while I did find some items with which I was unfamiliar, I found greater enjoyment in the easy-to-understand explanations of subtle points I’ve had difficulty conveying myself.

I know that in all probability, nobody reading this will afford the book a second glance. Or a first one, for that matter. But if you’re interested in overcoming a number of common errors — and ensuring that your message isn’t lost in miscommunication — I cannot recommend the book more highly (I’ll be buying a copy for my own office reference).

Okay, now who’ll be the first to point out the errors in this entry?


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