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The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English Paperback – 1 Mar 2004

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From the Back Cover

A thorough, and thoroughly entertaining, guide to writing like the pros

What do writers and editors mean when they talk about style? Sometimes they mean formatting for consistency and clarity. (Is it Texas or Tex. or TX? One space or two after a period?) Sometimes they mean correctness in spelling, grammar, word usage and punctuation. (A historic or an historic? The data is or the data are?) And sometimes they mean style as in stylishness. (Bright and breezy or just-the-facts-ma'am? Is that cute little idea fresh and original or tired and silly?) Inside, you'll find answers that will add polish and sparkle to your writing.

In the word-nerd classic Lapsing Into a Comma, Bill Walsh of the Washington Post entertained, educated and enlightened writers, editors, students and language lovers with commonsense guidelines and opinionated commentary on American English in the computer age. In The Elephants of Style he takes a step back and presents an in-depth look at the basics, including spelling, capitalization, abbreviations, subject-verb agreement, plurals and possessives.

With sometimes acerbic wit, the author also addresses:

  • The lies your English teacher told you.
  • Balancing the traditional ("Once wrong, always wrong") with the progressive ("Everybody does it") as language continues to evolve.
  • How and why major publications differ in their handling of basic spelling, capitalization and punctuation issues.
  • How empathy between writers and editors can make writing better.

The Elephants of Style includes a continuation of The Curmudgeon's Stylebook, Walsh's A-to-Z glossary of style matters big and small, guaranteed to address questions that no other usage manuals cover. Is Starbucks a coffee shop? Is it porn or porno?

About the Author

Bill Walsh is the copy chief for national news at the Washington Post and the creator of the popular Web site The Slot: A Spot for Copy Editors ( He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 21 reviews
62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Who left me out of the �Grammar can now be amusing� loop ?! 28 Mar. 2004
By Julie Jordan Scott - Published on
Format: Paperback
I found myself laughing out loud as I read Bill Walsh's "The Elephant's of Style."
Reminiscent of "Woe is I" this title actually entertains as it enlightens. Some of Walsh's best lines were "Split infinitives are the chicken cacciatore of the English Language" and "Who died and left me in charge of the English language?"
I want to know where Bill Walsh was when I was being drilled in grammar back in school! First they started teaching kids phonics and blends using fun songs and hand motions and now this?! I missed out on all the fun!
I especially enjoyed the section entitled "The Lies Your English Teacher Told You: Big Myths of English Usage" (I actually wiped my brow at one point in that chapter.) His appendix, "The Curmudgeon's Stylebook" is a valuable addition as well.
Wonderful stuff, easy to remember and apply.... Excellent for those who got stuck in the "grammar rules" and "strict critiques" from the past.... Free up the negative through process and just get through to the mechanics in this user friendly guide. The index will take you straight to your area of interest and then read the rest just `cause its so darn fun...... oh, I wonder if it's against the rules to insert periods in a row like that?
Better refer to my copy of "Elephants of Style" now.....
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
for the serious writer 4 Oct. 2009
By C. E. Selby - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought this might be similar to Patricia O'Conner's wonder Woe Is I which I use with my college writing students. But it is not. It is really more like an easier-to-approach Chicago Manual of Style. In other words for those who get easily intimidated by the Chicago style manual, this is much more "user friendly." And, like Dr. O'Conner, the author does not fall into the traps of absolutely ridiculous rules that are perpetuated by so many writing teachers and so many textbooks. For example, he takes to task those who say one can never begin a sentence with "and" or "but." And all those other ridiculous rules that no good writer adheres to. It is a great book. Highly recommended.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Strunk and White for the rest of us 21 Dec. 2009
By Stosh - Published on
Format: Paperback
For those of us who have trouble blindly accepting short declarative rules about grammar and style; here's a guy who doesn't just relate HIS positions on the subject, he explains WHY he holds those positions. Within this framework you will learn that many of the grammar-rules, which are often presented as hard facts by others, are actually quite squishy.

This author is not so arrogant as to think he can simply relate his opinions as a list of facts. Instead, he feels the need to justify his opinions. In explaining his justification for a given style-rule, he enlightens us, and gives us the understanding we need to draw our own conclusions. Those conclusions almost always agree with his, but with the added understanding comes the confidence to break rules we normally agree with, if that's what the situation calls for...

..."Or" should I say: "if it is that for which the situation calls" :-)
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Grammar with a funny bone 10 Mar. 2006
By Danielle N. Swanson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Almost nothing is as boring as learning the rules of grammar.

The Elephants of Style, however, makes the subject humorous and easier to both read and learn about. The author uses great(and often funny ) examples to teach students about everything from parts of speech to plagarism. I would recommend this book to college freshman, English teachers, or anyone struggling with grammar.

Of course, grammar may never lose the title of "boringest of them all," but at least there is a little humor at the end of the tunnel.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Get This Book 5 Oct. 2010
By James S. Carter - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like this book! I find it more useful that the classical Elements of Style by Strunk & White in that it lists a great many words that tend to be misused in modern times and explains more clearly the use of commas.

The advice in this book is outstanding for news reporting but cannot be used for preparing an article for publication in a scientific journal because, at least for this one reason, of the advice on acceptable usages of "data" as a singular noun (it's not. No exceptions) and I didn't notice any advice to string together a convoluted maximum entanglement of words in a rambling sentence of forbidding length for the purpose of saving space.

The author includes some pertinent differences in usages described other newspapers' style guides so that the reader can judge what's best for his or her intended forum.
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