Top positive review
102 people found this helpful
Still masterful and masterly
on 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.