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Troublesome Words Paperback – 26 Sep 2002
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It is nearly 20 years since Bill Bryson first penned his deliciously witty paean to precision Troublesome Words. Now he has revised it and 60 per cent of the content is new so it's well worth another browse and a place on the desk corner of anyone who likes words and who wants to get things right.
Once a sub-editor at The Times, Bryson is irresistibly drawn to knowing that "to flaunt" means to display ostentatiously but "to flout" means to treat with contempt. Or that a straitjacket may be straight but its name means that its occupant is confined and restricted--in straitened circumstances, perhaps. And can you explain the difference between a Creole and a Pidgin or between egoism and egotism? If not consult Bryson. Then you'll be able to. There's no pedantry or pomposity in Bryson's writing. But he argues: "Just as we all agree that clarity is better served if 'cup' represents a drinking vessel and 'cap' something you put on your head, so too I think the world is a fractionally better place if we agree to preserve a distinction between 'its' and 'it's', between 'I lay down the law' and 'I lie down to sleep', between 'imply' and 'infer' and countless others."
Bryson modestly jokes that this alphabetically arranged book could be subtitled "Even More Things in English Usage That the Author Wasn't Entirely Clear about Until Quite Recently". If only most of us were sure about a fraction of the things Bryson clearly understands very well we might all be more effective writers and speakers. --Susan Elkin
Combines the virtues of a first class work of reference with the pleasure of a good read (The Times) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product description
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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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