Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a poorly-written, chaotically-organised little smugfest, 1 Jan 2008
This review is from: Between You and I: A Little Book of Bad English (Paperback)
There have been quite a few of these grammar guides appearing in recent years, and they seem to fall into two broad categories. There are those that genuinely try to provide a clear and accessible introduction to the art of clear, accessible communication; those books provide a great service for the intelligent layperson who wants to fill in some of the gaps in their knowledge so shamefully left by the UK education system. And then there are books like this one, which appear to exist for rather less worthy reasons. This is a book for intellectual snobs rather than the intellectually curious; it is the type of book people read when they want to settle back in a comfy chair and spend a few hours laughing up their sleeves at other people's perceived stupidity.

Let me give an example to illustrate my point. The first half of an entry explaining why the phrase "between you and I" is grammatically wrong, reads as follows:

"'Between', 'from' and 'to' are prepositions and take the accusative form of the noun. Even the many people who are unaware of this basic grammatical rule would not dream of saying 'The distance between we and that hill' or 'From I to you' or 'To I and my wife'. Yet all too often nowadays we find people saying, or even writing, 'Between you and I' or 'From the wife and I'...[etc]"

The author continues in this vein, harrumphing smugly without trying very hard to help the reader understand precisely *why* it is a mistake to say 'Between you and I'. Mr Cochrane surely must realise that anybody who already understands a term like 'accusative form' does not really require a book like this; conversely, anybody who *does* need help with what the author patronisingly calls 'basic grammatical rules', is quite clearly going to need to have such terms explained when they are introduced into the text. Such a reader will have to go elsewhere for such explanations, because no attempt is made here to give them.

The entry dealing with the correct use of 'who' and 'whom' (another linguistic minefield) is even worse, and is in my opinion virtually indecipherable to the uninitiated. It reads, in fact, like a page of notes jotted down from a half-understood lecture.

The book is presented as an A-Z guide to bad grammar and slipshod English. That might sound like a useful thing to have on your bookshelf, but really the book is so badly organised that it is all but useless as a reference resource. There is an entry under the letter 'N' with the heading "Not enough ands." What on earth could that be about, you may well wonder. Well, it does deal with a genuine problem in contemporary written English -- I see it all the time in serious papers like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, sentences like, "I feel tired, disoriented and have had enough of this abominable book," which should of course read "tired and disoriented" -- but the entry dealing with the problem in this book is so absurdly indexed that I don't think you would ever find it if you didn't already know where it was.

Other entries include the long-windedly avoidant phrase "at this moment in time"; this, bafflingly, is filed under 'M', in the following way: "Moment in time, at this." The strange expressions "sea change" and "step change" are filed, not under the letter 'S' as you might expect, but under 'C' with the following heading: "Change, sea, step." It would, surely, have been better to have grouped the various different types of bad English together in separate, themed, chapters, rather than attempting to cram everything into the A-Z format. The result might just possibly have been a book that people could actually use.

Really, this book is so hopeless that it only deserves one star, but I am prepared to give Mr Cochrane a bonus point, as it were, for at least being on the side of people who care about good English. So, two stars out of five -- still not very impressive. If you want advice on how to write straightforward English, then the Oxford 'Plain English Guide' is far, far more clearly-written than this book, and is very competitively-priced. If you're looking for a more general introduction to the arcane mysteries of English grammar, then I think you will find Marion Field's 'Improve Your Punctuation and Grammar' very concise and accessible. I also enjoyed Graham King's book 'Good Grammar', which again explains the subject in clear, straightforward prose, and is pitched at a level that engages the intelligent layperson without confusing or alienating the uninitiated. There are quite a few other such books on the market, too, these days, that you can choose from, and many of them will serve you well. Just make sure that you don't get lumbered with a book like this, because it may put you off grammar studies for life.
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3.5 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews)
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