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Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right

by Bill Bryson

  • Paperback
    $28.05
PUBLISHED: 14th September 2004
ISBN: 9780767910439
ANNOTATION:
One of the English language's most skilled and beloved writers guides us all toward precise, mistake-free usage. As usual Bill Bryson says it best: "English is a dazzlingly idiosyncratic tongue, full of quirks and irregularities that often seem willfully at odds with logic and common sense. This is a language where 'cleave' can mean to cut in half or to hold two halves together; where the simple word 'set' has 126 different meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participial adjective; where if you can run fast you are moving swiftly, but if you are stuck fast you are not moving at all; [and] where 'colonel, ' 'freight, ' 'once, ' and 'ache' are strikingly at odds with their spellings." As a copy editor for the London" Times in the early 1980s, Bill Bryson felt keenly the lack of an easy-to-consult, authoritative guide to avoiding the traps and snares in English, and so he brashly suggested to a publisher that he should write one. Surprisingly, the proposition was accepted, and for "a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth," he proceeded to write that book-his first, inaugurating his stellar career. Now, a decade and a half later, revised, updated, and thoroughly (but not overly) Americanized, it has become "Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, more than ever an essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries, from "a, an" to "zoom," that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and-because it is written by Bill Bryson-oftenwitty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it. "From the Hardcover edition.
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  • Paperback
    $28.05
PUBLISHED: 14th September 2004
ISBN: 9780767910439
ANNOTATION:
One of the English language's most skilled and beloved writers guides us all toward precise, mistake-free usage. As usual Bill Bryson says it best: "English is a dazzlingly idiosyncratic tongue, full of quirks and irregularities that often seem willfully at odds with logic and common sense. This is a language where 'cleave' can mean to cut in half or to hold two halves together; where the simple word 'set' has 126 different meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participial adjective; where if you can run fast you are moving swiftly, but if you are stuck fast you are not moving at all; [and] where 'colonel, ' 'freight, ' 'once, ' and 'ache' are strikingly at odds with their spellings." As a copy editor for the London" Times in the early 1980s, Bill Bryson felt keenly the lack of an easy-to-consult, authoritative guide to avoiding the traps and snares in English, and so he brashly suggested to a publisher that he should write one. Surprisingly, the proposition was accepted, and for "a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth," he proceeded to write that book-his first, inaugurating his stellar career. Now, a decade and a half later, revised, updated, and thoroughly (but not overly) Americanized, it has become "Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, more than ever an essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries, from "a, an" to "zoom," that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and-because it is written by Bill Bryson-oftenwitty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it. "From the Hardcover edition.

Annotation

One of the English language's most skilled and beloved writers guides us all toward precise, mistake-free usage. As usual Bill Bryson says it best: "English is a dazzlingly idiosyncratic tongue, full of quirks and irregularities that often seem willfully at odds with logic and common sense. This is a language where 'cleave' can mean to cut in half or to hold two halves together; where the simple word 'set' has 126 different meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participial adjective; where if you can run fast you are moving swiftly, but if you are stuck fast you are not moving at all; [and] where 'colonel, ' 'freight, ' 'once, ' and 'ache' are strikingly at odds with their spellings." As a copy editor for the London" Times in the early 1980s, Bill Bryson felt keenly the lack of an easy-to-consult, authoritative guide to avoiding the traps and snares in English, and so he brashly suggested to a publisher that he should write one. Surprisingly, the proposition was accepted, and for "a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth," he proceeded to write that book-his first, inaugurating his stellar career. Now, a decade and a half later, revised, updated, and thoroughly (but not overly) Americanized, it has become "Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, more than ever an essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries, from "a, an" to "zoom," that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and-because it is written by Bill Bryson-oftenwitty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it.

"From the Hardcover edition.

Publisher Description

One of the English language's most skilled and beloved writers guides us all toward precise, mistake-free usage. As usual Bill Bryson says it best: "English is a dazzlingly idiosyncratic tongue, full of quirks and irregularities that often seem willfully at odds with logic and common sense. This is a language where 'cleave' can mean to cut in half or to hold two halves together; where the simple word 'set' has 126 different meanings as a verb, 58 as a noun, and 10 as a participial adjective; where if you can run fast you are moving swiftly, but if you are stuck fast you are not moving at all; and] where 'colonel, ' 'freight, ' 'once, ' and 'ache' are strikingly at odds with their spellings." As a copy editor for the London" Times" in the early 1980s, Bill Bryson felt keenly the lack of an easy-to-consult, authoritative guide to avoiding the traps and snares in English, and so he brashly suggested to a publisher that he should write one. Surprisingly, the proposition was accepted, and for "a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth," he proceeded to write that book-his first, inaugurating his stellar career. Now, a decade and a half later, revised, updated, and thoroughly (but not overly) Americanized, it has become "Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words," more than ever an essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries, from "a, an" to "zoom," that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and-because it is written by Bill Bryson-often witty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it.

"From the Hardcover edition."

Author Biography

Bill Bryson is the bestselling author of "At Home", "A Walk in the Woods", "The Lost Continent", "Made in America", "The Mother Tongue", and "A Short History of Nearly Everything", winner of the Aventis Prize. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.

Review

"A worthwhile addition to any writer's or editor's reference library." --Los Angeles Times "[Bryson is] a world-class grammar maven." --Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

"A usage book with a nice sense of differentiation." --William Safire, New York Times Magazine

"Bryson's erudition is evident and refreshing . . . a straightforward, concise, utilitarian guide." --Publishers Weekly

Review Quote

"A worthwhile addition to any writer's or editor's reference library." -Los Angeles Times "[Bryson is] a world-class grammar maven." -Michael Upchurch,Seattle Times "A usage book with a nice sense of differentiation." -William Safire,New York Times Magazine "Bryson's erudition is evident and refreshing . . . a straightforward, concise, utilitarian guide." -Publishers Weekly

Excerpt from Book

A a, an. Errors involving the indefinite articles a and an are almost certainly more often a consequence of haste and carelessness than of ignorance. They are especially common when numbers are involved, as here: "Cox will contribute 10 percent of the equity needed to build a $80 million cable system" (Washington Post). Make it an. Occasionally the writer and editor together fail to note how an abbreviation is pronounced: "He was assisted initially by two officers from the sheriff''s department and a FBI agent drafted in from the bureau''s Cleveland office" (Chicago Tribune). When the first letter of an abbreviation is pronounced as a vowel, as in FBI, the preceding article should be an, not a. abbreviations, contractions, acronyms. Abbreviation is the general term used to describe any shortened word. Contractions and acronyms are types of abbreviation. A contraction is a word that has been squeezed in the middle, so to speak, but has retained one or more of its opening and closing letters, as with Mr. for Mister and can''t for cannot. An acronym is a word formed from the initial letter or letters of a group of words, as with radar for radio detecting and ranging, and NATO for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Abbreviations that are not pronounced as words (IBM, ABC, NFL) are not acronyms; they are just abbreviations. Whether to write NATO or Nato is normally a matter of preference or house style. American publications tend to capitalize all the letters of abbreviations, even when they are pronounced as words. In Britain, generally the convention is to capitalize only the initial letter when the abbreviation is pronounced as a word and is reasonably well known. Thus most British publications would write Aids and Nato (but probably not Seato). For abbreviations of all types, try to avoid an appearance of clutter and intrusiveness. Rather than make repeated reference to "the IGLCO" or "NOOSCAM," it is nearly always better to refer to the abbreviated party as "the committee," "the institute," or whatever other word is appropriate. Finally, for the benefit of travelers who may have wondered why the British so often dispense with periods on the ends of abbreviations (writing Mr, Dr, and St where Americans would write Mr., Dr., and St.), it''s helpful to know that the convention in Britain is to include a period when the abbreviation stops in the midst of a word (as with Capt. and Prof., for instance) but to leave off the period when the last letter of the abbreviation is the last letter of the full word--that is, when it is a contraction. accessible. Not -able. accommodate. One of the most misspelled of all words. Note -mm-. accompanist. Not -iest. acidulous, assiduous. Acidulous means tart or acid. Assiduous means diligent. acolyte. Not -ite. acoustics. As a science, the word is singular ("Acoustics was his line of work"). As a collection of properties, it is plural ("The acoustics in the auditorium were not good"). acronyms. See abbreviations, contractions, acronyms. activity. Often a sign of prolixity, as here: "The warnings followed a week of earthquake activity throughout the region" (Independent). Just make it "a week of earthquakes." acute, chronic. These two are sometimes confused, which is a little odd, as their meanings are sharply opposed. Chronic pertains to lingering conditions, ones that are not easily overcome. Acute refers to those that come to a sudden crisis and require immediate attention. People in the Third World may suffer from a chronic shortage of food. In a bad year, their plight may become acute. a.d. anno Domini (Lat.), "in the year of the Lord." a.d. should be written before the year (a.d. 25) but after the century (fourth century a.d.) and is usually set in small caps. See also anno domini and b.c. adage. Even the most careful users of English frequently, but unnecessarily, refer to an "old adage." An adage is by definition old. adapter, adaptor. The first is one who adapts (as in a book for theatrical presentation); the second is the device for making appliances work abroad and so on. adjective pileup. Many journalists, in an otherwise commendable attempt to pack as much information as possible into a confined space, often resort to the practice of piling adjectives in front of the subject, as in this London Times headline: "Police rape claim woman in court." Apart from questions of inelegance, such headlines can be confusing, to say the least. A hurried reader, expecting a normal subject-verb-object construction, could at first conclude that the police have raped a claim-woman in court before the implausibility of that notion makes him go back and read the headline again. Readers should never be required to retrace their steps, however short the journey. Although the practice is most common in headlines, it sometimes crops up in text, as here: "The new carburetor could result in an up to 35 percent improvement in gas mileage" (Des Moines Register). The ungainliness here could instantly be eliminated by making it "an improvement in mileage of up to 35 percent." administer. Not administrate. admit to is nearly always wrong, as in these examples: "The Rev. Jesse Jackson had just admitted to fathering a child with an adoring staffer" (Baltimore Sun); "Pretoria admits to raid against Angola" (Guardian headline); "Botha admits to errors on Machel cash" (Independent headline). Delete to in each case. You admit a misdeed, you do not admit to it. advance planning is common but always redundant. All planning must be done in advance. adverse, averse. Occasionally confused. Averse means reluctant or disinclined (think of aversion). Adverse means hostile and antagonistic (think of adversary). aerate. Just two syllables. Not aereate. affect, effect. As a verb, affect means to influence ("Smoking may affect your health") or to adopt a pose or manner ("She affected ignorance"). Effect as a verb means to accomplish ("The prisoners effected an escape"). As a noun, the word needed is almost always effect (as in "personal effects" or "the damaging effects of war"). Affect as a noun has a narrow psychological meaning to do with emotional states (by way of which it is related to affection). affinity denotes a mutual relationship. Therefore, strictly speaking, one should not speak of someone or something having an affinity for another but should speak of an affinity with or between. When mutuality is not intended, sympathy would be a better word. But it should also be noted that a number of authorities and many dictionaries no longer insist on this distinction. affright. Note -ff-. Afrikaans, Afrikaners. The first is a language, the second a group of people. aggravate in the sense of exasperate has been with us at least since the early seventeenth century and has been opposed by grammarians for about as long. Strictly, aggravate means to make a bad situation worse. If you walk on a broken leg, you may aggravate the injury. People can never be aggravated, only circumstances. Fowler, who called objections to the looser usage a fetish, was no doubt right when he insisted the purists were fighting a battle that had already been lost, but equally there is no real reason to use aggravate when annoy will do. aggression, aggressiveness. "Aggression in U.S. pays off for Tilling Group" (Times headline). Aggression always denotes hostility, which was not intended here. The writer of the headline meant to suggest only that the company had taken a determined and enterprising approach to the American market. The word he wanted was aggressiveness, which can denote either hostility or merely boldness. aid and abet. A tautological gift from the legal profession. The two words together tell us nothing that either doesn''t say on its own. The only distinction is that abet is normally reserved for contexts involving criminal intent. Thus it would be careless to speak of a benefactor abetting the construction of a church or youth club. Other redundant expressions dear to lawyers include null and void, ways and means, and without let or hindrance. AIDS is not correctly described as a disease. It is a medical condition. The term is short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Air Line Pilots Association for the group that looks after the interests of American commercial pilots. airlines. "It is thought the company may also be in exploratory talks with another U.S. carrier, Alaskan Airlines" (Times). It''s Alaska Airlines. "It was found only a few miles from where a Swiss Air jet crashed two years ago" (Boston Globe). It''s Swissair. Perhaps because airlines so commonly merge or change their names, they are often wrongly designated in newspaper reporting. The following are among the more commonly troublesome: Aer Lingus Aerolineas Argentinas AeroMexico AeroPeru Air-India (note hyphen) AirTran Airlines (formerly ValuJet Airlines) Alaska Airlines All Nippon Airways (not -lines) Delta Air Lines (note Air Lines two words) Iberia Airlines (not Iberian) Icelandair Japan Airlines (Airlines one word, but JAL for the company''s abbreviation) KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (normally just KLM) LanChile (one word, but formerly Lan Chile, two words) Sabena Belgian World Airlines (normally just Sabena) Scandinavian Airlines System (normally just SAS) SriLankan Airlines (formerly AirLanka; note one word on S

Product Details

Author
Bill Bryson
Short Title
BRYSONS DICT OF TROUBLESOME WO
Pages
256
Publisher
Broadway Books
Language
English
ISBN-10
0767910435
ISBN-13
9780767910439
Media
Book
Format
Paperback
Year
2004
Publication Date
2004-09-30
Residence
New York, US
Country of Publication
United States
Subtitle
A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right
Audience
General/Trade