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The Future of English?
The New York Times has called the author Jess Walter "ridiculously talented." "His sentences nearly sing," says the Los Angeles Review of Books. "One of my favorite young American writers," says fellow novelist Nick Hornby.
We agree with the critics. Walter's 2012 best-seller Beautiful Ruins is a masterpiece. But today we'll do a different kind of book review.
Our job at GrammarBook.com is to preserve and promote standard English. This sometimes puts us at cross-purposes with Walter, who chooses to speak to his
readers in an easy, accessible voice—the people's English, not the scholars' English. If his writing is where the language is headed, we traditionalists
must accept that we are fighting numerous losing battles.
In Walter's short story We Live in Water one finds this line: "The resort was comprised of three newer buildings." Word nerds will question why he
didn't use composed instead of comprised. In 1926, in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H.W. Fowler hissed, "This
lamentably common use of comprise as a synonym of compose or constitute is a wanton and indefensible weakening of our
vocabulary." Seventy-six years later, in 2002, Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words was no less emphatic: "Comprised of is a
common expression, but it is always wrong."
So it seems clear that Walter used the phrase because he either did not know or did not care that "the experts" say it's wrong. By writing "comprised of,"
Walter is legitimizing this "common expression" over the adamant objections of a dwindling cadre of fuddy-duddies.
From Walter's 2003 novel Land of the Blind: "I don't know who liked this new world less, him or Mr. Leggett." Walter, who could have used the
correct he in this sentence without sounding stilted or affected, opted instead for the colloquial him. Apparently, neither he
nor his target audience loses any sleep over such erudite technicalities.
In another short story, The New Frontier, the author writes, "He convinced her to model." But technically, he persuaded her to model. "Convince may be followed by an of phrase or a that clause, but not by a to infinitive," counsels Theodore M. Bernstein
in The Careful Writer (1983). That rule is upheld to this day by the Associated Press Stylebook: "You may [only] be convinced that something or of something." Walter isn't buying. He's trusting his own ear, as writers will do. The fine
distinction between convince and persuade, he is saying, has become a quaint bit of trivia.
He introduces sentences with danglers. He repeatedly writes "different than" rather than "different from." He says "snuck" even though sneaked is
still considered the correct option. At least once, he uses strata—the plural of stratum—as a singular. He writes "close proximity," long
dismissed by sticklers as a windy redundancy.
Walter is too busy spinning his wondrous tales to be distracted by such minutiae—his instincts tell him: Why bother?
Why, indeed? That question gives all language watchdogs nightmares.
Because of the E-Newsletter's large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com's “Grammar Blog.”
Revised and Expanded Blue Book Coming Next Month
Thanks very much to those of you who already took advantage of the publisher's generous discount offer on pre-orders of The Blue Book. We
apologize for the discount code glitches experienced by some people last week. Part of the problem was that the publisher did not realize how large our
following is outside North America. The problems have been worked out, and your pre-orders should now process smoothly.
If you live in the United States or Canada, order the new edition of
The Blue Book
through Wiley.com and get 30 percent off and FREE shipping. Simply go to bit.ly/1996hkA
and use discount code E9X4AYY.
For those of you who live outside the U.S. and Canada, although the publisher is not able to offer free shipping, you will get
35 percent off
to help offset your shipping costs. Simply go to bit.ly/1996hkA
and use discount code E9X4A.
With our best wishes for good grammar,
The team at GrammarBook.com
Congratulations to Cindy Frye, whose endorsement will appear on the back cover of the new edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. Ms. Frye will receive a complimentary copy. We thank all of you who submitted endorsements when we asked for them last year.
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In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism your count votes.
If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.
You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.