Are You Booked for the Summer?

By Rob Kyff

June 12, 2019 3 min read

If you're bound for the beach, boardwalk or boat this summer — or just the back porch — pick up one of these new books about language.

Anyone who writes anything should grab Gary Provost's "100 Ways to Improve Your Writing." First published in 1985 and updated for the first time, this handy guide is a writer's Swiss Army knife. Suffering from writer's block? Make a list of your key points. Want your words to pack punch? Be specific and use active verbs. Seeking to engage your readers? Write about people and use anecdotes. Need inspiration? Read and eavesdrop.

Mary Norris, author of the 2015 bestseller "Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen," takes a deep dive into the blue Aegean Sea in "Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen." A lifelong philhellene, Norris serves up a sprightly mix of scholarship and travelogue to prove that the edifice of English sits firmly on Greek marble — from "glaucoma," derived from the Greek "glaukopis" (gray-eyed), to "comma," from "komma," Greek for "segment."

If you think our current disputes over language are intense, check out "The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight over the English Language" by Peter Martin. During the early 1800s, lexicographers Joseph Worcester and Noah Webster scrapped like scorpions in a bottle. Worcester thought American dictionaries should imitate British English; Webster argued they should reflect the language of the young republic. This war of words remained at the center/centre of contention for decades.

"Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language" by editor and linguist Amanda Montell shows how language has been used for centuries to marginalize women. But this is no diatribe; it's a nuanced and naughty romp through history, culture and etymology. Montell shows, for instance, that seemingly harmless neologisms, such as "mompreneur," "SHE-EO" and "girlboss," are based on the sexist assumption that "entrepreneur," "CEO" and "boss" denote only men.

"Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style" by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, is packed with witty and wise advice on just about any language question that's ever knitted your brow. A sampling: Feel free to use "like" instead of "such as" to introduce a list of items. Use "until" or "till," never "'til."And the hirsute humanoids in "Star Wars" films are "Wookiees," not "Wookies." Who knew?

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: StartupStockPhotos at Pixabay

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