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VINE VOICEon 1 June 2010
Do you put 'spoonsful' or 'spoonfuls' of sugar into tea? Do you know the difference between defining and non-defining clauses and between 'androgynous' and 'androgenous'? Can you tell irony from sarcasm and 'prophecy' from 'prophesy'? If you can, then you don't need this book. But you'd probably want to read it anyway. To all intents and purposes, Troublesome Words is the same as the earlier Dictionary of Troublesome Words, with a makeover to make it look new (rather like this review, in fact).

The great triumph of Troublesome Words is that it's arranged like a dictionary but is interesting enough to read cover to cover as though it were a novel. It projects a sense of personality (Bryson's) and his values: companies' eccentric and convention-defying names - with backward facing letters, for example - should never be allowed to become 'a distraction in print'. It bears the hallmark of Bryson's distinctive style: conversational, witty and digressive. All it lacks is a narrative.

Although essentially a work of reference, Brysonisms lighten the way. The entry for 'that' and 'which', for instance, advises brushing up on those clauses, defining and non- . 'Learning these distinctions is not, it must be said, anyone's idea of a good time, but it is one technical aspect of grammar that every professional user of English should understand because it is at the root of an assortment of grammatical errors.' And woe betide anyone who spells 'barbecue' with a 'q' and hyphens because they are clearly 'not ready for unsupervised employment'.

Other books of this type are more famous, authoritative and formidable - those by Fowler and Partridge in particular. But this one is actually entertaining as well as instructive, and is also considerably more recent (and therefore more in touch with contemporary usage). It has my vote, anyway.
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on 10 January 2004
I found this book very approachable and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn a little bit more about the English language but doesn't have the time or inclination to plough through the more traditional style of language book.
It is organised alphabetically making it easy to dip into but is also fine to read straight through.
Examples are provided of the wrong way of doing things as well as the correct way which makes it easier to remember.
There are lots of examples of bad grammar taken from National newspapers to show you that even the professionals don't get it right. This gives the book a less formal approach, than say Fowler, and doesn't make you feel inferior just because you didn't know what a dangling modifier was.
Bill Bryson has selected a good range with examples of confusing spellings, punctuation, and grammar that will serve as an excellent starting point for anyone who wishes to take certain sections further.
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on 14 April 2007
Before finding fame as a travel writer with The Lost Continent and Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson had been a sub-editor at the Times struggling with the nuances of the English language. What is the difference between flouting and flaunting; what exactly does it mean to imply and to infer; can one use the word either in reference to more than two alternatives? Unable to find a single, concise guide to which he could refer to for such `troublesome words', Bryson contacted Penguin and offered to write one himself.

Troublesome Words, the 2001 revised and updated edition of Bryson's original 1984 book (The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words), is an A - Z guide to words and phrases commonly misused in print. Drawing from more than 40 respected works on linguistics, Bryson provides advice and suggestions to everyday grammatical problems and helpfully illustrates them with real-life examples of misuse. He explains that culminate, for example, "does not signify any result or outcome, but rather one marking a high point" and cites an a news clipping from The Times which reads "The company's financial troubles culminated in the resignation of the chairman last June". The example highlights Bryson's lesson. A series of financial gains could culminate in the chairman receiving a bonus but financial troubles do not culminate in a resignation. Helpfully, he not only warns against words that are used incorrectly, but also those which are often used redundantly, such as basically; a word which in most contexts "is basically unnecessary, as here."

Unfortunately, the somewhat narrow breadth of the guide does betray its (and Bryson's) Fleet Street origins. Almost every example of misuse hails from newspaper pieces and, furthermore, usually from the business pages. So Bryson provides the correct spelling for the name of the household products company, Procter & Gamble but no guide to using, for example, the word breadth, as appears at the top of this paragraph (incorrectly as it happens, the phrase used should be "narrow scope"). As such, one can't help but feel the dictionary would be improved by a slight shift in emphasis toward the general writer.

These are minor gripes though, and Bryson is both a thoughtful and entertaining guide. Without bloating the book he peppers his definitions with etymology, anecdotes and, where appropriate, his trademark dry humour. He tells us, for example, that "the belief that 'and' should not be used to begin a sentence is without foundation. And that's all there is to it"; and that "barbecue is the only acceptable spelling in serious writing. Any journalist or other formal user of English who believes that the word is spelled barbeque or, worse still, bar-b-q is not ready for unsupervised employment'. As such, Troublesome Words is one of those rare things: a reference work which can be dipped into time and again yet remains a pleasure when read cover-to-cover.
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on 9 July 2010
Well, one thinks they know most things in grammar, but one nearly always gets caught out. I didn't realise graffiti is plural and that the singular is graffito. Remember in future to say "There were graffiti........
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VINE VOICEon 25 February 2008
Do you put 'spoonsful' or 'spoonfuls' of sugar into tea? Do you know the difference between defining and non-defining clauses and between 'androgynous' and 'androgenous'? Can you tell irony from sarcasm and a 'prophecy' from 'prophesy'? If all of this is second nature, you don't need this book. But you'd probably want to read it anyway.

The great triumph of Troublesome Words is that it's arranged like a dictionary but is interesting enough to read cover to cover as though it were a novel. It projects a sense of personality (Bryson's) and his values: companies' eccentric and convention-defying names - with backward facing letters, for example - should never be allowed to become 'a distraction in print'. It bears the hallmark of Bryson's distinctive style: conversational, witty and taut. All it lacks is a narrative.

Although essentially a work of reference, Brysonisms lighten the way. The entry for 'that' and 'which', for instance, advises brushing up on those clauses, defining and non- . 'Learning these distinctions is not, it must be said, anyone's idea of a good time, but it is one technical aspect of grammar that every professional user of English should understand because it is at the root of an assortment of grammatical errors.' And woe betide anyone who spells 'barbecue' with a 'q' and hyphens because they are clearly 'not ready for unsupervised employment'.

Other books of this type are more famous, authoritative and formidable - those by Fowler and Partridge in particular. But this is actually entertaining as well as instructive, and is also more up to date (and therefore more in touch with contemporary usage). It has my vote, anyway.
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on 1 October 2010
As with all of Bryson's books on words and language, this one is very useful and full of good incidental information, all done in a typical humorous vein.
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on 24 November 2010
Okay I'll admit I'm not someone who tends to read dictionaries from cover to cover but I do like Bill Bryson books, especially the way he manages to present little facts you didn't know but find yourself pleased that you can subsequently recall in pub conversations. In Troublesome Words Bryson goes through the dictionary from A to Z (followed by a bit on punctuation) and highlights particular words which people tend to get wrong... perhaps it's the context they're used in or maybe the spelling. For me, the best part of the book was Bryson highlighting words which are literally superfluous (like literally just there!) in the way they are used. The example of "literally" was particularly amusing: Bryson points out if it's literal then it doesn't need to be there but actually it's generally the complete opposite.

From a practical perspective I found I've already tried to put his guidance into practice (I'm sure Bryson would have a field day with what I've written here) and even though some of the comments are perhaps overly critical it's a good read.
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on 2 May 2010
An unfortunately all-too-rare example of a book that's simultaneously educational and really amusing: whether read to feed an interest in comparative language studies or just to entertain it's worth twice the money!
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on 6 August 2010
Very good, every home should have one-if you have a good old/dated one, update yours with this one! interesting for all ages.
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on 27 June 2000
This book is an excellent introduction to English grammar. It's easy to dip in and out of, yet its breezy style means it can be read in one sitting. A much easier way to get to grips with grammar, than a tome like Fowler, which you need a degree in linguistics to decipher. As a working sub-editor, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to sharpen up their writing.
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