The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly
by Charles Harrington Elster
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: July 20, 2010
Writers know the pitfalls of bad grammar, bad punctuation and, with a certain flair for the embarrassing, bad word choices. We all know it and we all do it anyway. The redundant words, the unfailing grasp of the obvious, the hoity-toity choices that are built only to impress the reader of the writer’s superior knowledge. And they all fail.
A great editor and/or copy editor will catch those in a heart beat. But what if you don’t have a great editor. Or copy editor. Or, as it so happens in this day and age, you’re trying to perform those roles for yourself to get that publisher or agent hooked into taking your book on? What do you do then? You get a book such as The Accidents of Style.
Mr. Elster provides plenty of examples to help you learn, and his running commentary on these high profile examples is both cutting and hilarious. He might take pity on those of us who are struggling to get our work out there, but he’s merciless to those who should know better. Take, for instance, these examples from Accidents:
• The New York Times: “There’s enough lousy drivers already.” Should be there are. Elster writes, “There are enough careless wordslingers out there already. There’s is not ‘more natural’ than there are. It’s just sloppy.”
• The San Diego Union-Tribune: “It’s a battle that may never have a clear winner, but for the residents who live there, it’s one worth fighting.” Elster adds, “Perhaps the residents who don’t live there pick their battles more carefully. … A resident is a person who lives in a particular place.”
• The Baltimore Sun: “Some of the most exhilarating cinema to be seen on screen.” Elster asks, “As opposed to, say, some of the most exhilarating theater to be seen in a theater, some of the most exhilarating TV to be seen on TV, or some of the most exhilarating radio to be heard on the radio?” An example of tautology, needless repetition of the same idea in different words. Also, on screen should be on-screen or onscreen.
• USA TODAY: “Maine yielded just three hits and struck out five prior to leaving.” Elster asks, “Why use two words (prior to) where one (before) will do? Why sound like a self-important twit?”
If you’re serious about your writing, whether it be book, blog, or article, this is one book to help improve your own style. It’s a definite must have for your Reference Shelf.
You can find The Accidents of Style through all online booksellers, as well as locally through Joseph-Beth Booksellers in the Lexington Green Mall on Nicholasville Road and Barnes & Noble in the Hamburg Pavilion Shopping Center off Man o’ War Blvd.
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