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4.6 out of 5 stars
Troublesome Words
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on 18 May 2018
A book to dip into for truly erudite knowledge and something is learned with every small exploration. A very useful book if you do a lot of writing whether as a writer or just a manic email-writer! - So many useful insights into how best to use a phrases and words normally misused and abused actively or passively.
Bill Bryson is one of the most enjoyable writers of our time. I try never to miss a new publication by him - but I appreciate he can't give up his whole life to writing books - so output is slowing down now. This one is a bonus for sure.. A very handy book that I will be consulting for a long time to come I hope.
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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.
11 people found this helpful
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on 20 May 2014
Previously published as the Penguin Guide, so don't buy both, this is Bill Bryson at his best, informative, intelligent and never patronising. What is comforting is the number of examples of highbrow newspapers who get it wrong, proving that you should never assume that what you read in the papers is correct, either factually or in grammatical terms. You can use it as a dictionary reference (in which mode it is not large enough in my opinion) or just read it as a book; a dual purpose addition that should be on every person's bookshelf who prefers to be able to write English as it ought to be wrote....er, written.....
One person found this helpful
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VINE VOICEon 13 December 2007
As I pored through this book (oh crikey, is that the right spelling of 'pored'?), one thing kept going through my mind: how on earth will I remember all these things?!
There's just so much in here; the English language is such a labyrinthine, potentially perplexing thing (oops, was that correct use of 'labyrinthine'?). You half want to say, oh the heck with it. As you read, you test yourself on what has gone before when a definition refers back to another. 'Just give me a second to remember...' you cry, and then curse yourself when you can't.
My second point is this: many of the meanings and usages of words continue to change and there's very little we can do about it. Bryson and others may like to insist that, eg media remains plural, but idiom forces it to bend another way. He occasionally admits that idiom is tough to battle against, but does so anyway. If he was around in 500 years (oo, do I need an apostrophe there?) time I suspect he will be disappointed with the change in meaning of many words. But why fight it? It's a losing battle in many cases.
In conclusion, this is an engrossing book for anyone who loves words, and comes highly recommended. BB's sardonic wit is kept in check but the book's content allows for much gentle humour.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 August 2011
This is not Fowler's "Modern English Usage" (1926) and it is written by an American, one of that country separated from us by a common language according to Churchill, George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde, contingent on your quotations dictionary and preferences.

To be serious, although this does, like Blackpool rock and "Blackpool", have journalist written throughout it reminding readers of his origins and writing development, it is a very useful text by a highly intelligent, well-read and prolific writer. It is comforting to read a journalist (anyone in fact) attempting to preserve the fine points and subtleties of our language in our day of txt and 2b.

A great admirer of Bill Bryson (in small doses apart from "A Short History of Almost Everything" which needs to be read consistently), I recommend it. It can be read for fun or just dipped into for reference.
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on 8 April 2016
There are thousands of books written on grammar, style and correct usage, & few authors wear their depth of knowledge so lightly as Mr Bryson, or teach and entertain with such good humour. So put this one in your knapsack, virtual or real, and you've gained a friend for life and a resource of substantial utility.
One person found this helpful
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VINE VOICEon 25 July 2011
I loved this book! it should be every teenagers (and adults)! Bible, as soon as you start to read it, it wets the appetite for more, words and their many and varied meanings make the good 'ole English language the hardest on earth to learn as well as the most fascinating, as our language is such a mixture of every conquering hoard that invaded our small island over the centuries ! plus the fact that the English the Americans speak is mostly not anything like the Queens English !
Well done to Mr Bryson for a superlative interesting little book.
4 people found this helpful
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on 1 June 2017
Informative, but not one of Bill's best books, and I am quite a fan of his writing.
2 people found this helpful
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on 26 January 2018
Love this book. It's so wonderfully precise about the usage of English - and manages never to be boring. Bill Bryson is a genius. If you love words and want a book that you can just pick up and put down whenever buy this.
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on 8 January 2016
I originally bought the Kindle version of this, but found it so useful that I also bought a paperback copy. It is really a reference book, in alphabetical order, of troublesome words and phrases, with Bill Bryson's inimitable wit - I particularly loved his dismissal of one of the phrases I heartily dislike - "at this moment in time" - as linguistic ineptitude. Whilst one could read it through from A to Z, it is, in my opinion, more useful to have close by when writing. It should sit alongside your dictionary and thesaurus.
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