- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Posted October 12, 2009
As someone who enjoys reading books on language usage and word origins, I found this book quite interesting, a quick read. Ambrose Bierce's "Write It Right" was originally published in 1909 as a reference for proper (correct) language usage. Approximately 300 entries were arranged alphabetically. Today, many of the forms Bierce insisted were incorrect are, in fact, in common usage.
Many of his entries are especially interesting, I think, simply because of his attempts to 'split hairs.' For example, "I am afraid it will rain" is incorrect, according to Bierce. You should instead say "I fear it will rain." Another entry goes into the difference between "generally" and "usually." He also thought the word "pants" (when used instead of "trousers") was vulgar. And he disapproved of using the words "forecasted" and "fix" among others.
For this new edition of Bierce's book, Jan Freeman has annotated each entry to give more context to the original explanations of the language usage, showing quite often that Bierce was not the expert he claimed to be. For instance, Bierce complained in some of his entries of how America was corrupting the language, when the usage could be found in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (published 1700s), or even earlier. And he blamed "the weather bureau" for "forecasted," when in fact, it had been used since the 16th century.
I thought Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary" was wonderful satire, but here he comes off as picky and condescending. (According to another Bierce rule of language, I just misused the word "but" in the sentence above.) Familiarity with Bierce's name is what caught my attention, but Freeman's annotation is what kept me interested in reading. "Write It Right" was first published 100 years ago, and a lot (or maybe not so much, after all) has changed since then.