The Elephants of Style

( 3 )


Advice on good writing from everybody's favorite editorial curmudgeon

Persnickety, cantankerous, opinionated, entertaining, hilarious, wise...these are a few of the adjectives reviewers used to describe good-writing maven Bill Walsh's previous book, Lapsing Into a Comma. Now, picking up where he left off in Lapsing, Walsh addresses the dozen or so biggest issues that every writer or editor must master. He also offers a trunkload of good advice on the many little things that add ...

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The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English

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Advice on good writing from everybody's favorite editorial curmudgeon

Persnickety, cantankerous, opinionated, entertaining, hilarious, wise...these are a few of the adjectives reviewers used to describe good-writing maven Bill Walsh's previous book, Lapsing Into a Comma. Now, picking up where he left off in Lapsing, Walsh addresses the dozen or so biggest issues that every writer or editor must master. He also offers a trunkload of good advice on the many little things that add up to good writing. Featuring all the elements that made Lapsing such a fun read, including Walsh's trademark acerbic wit and fascinating digressions on language and its discontents, The Elephants of Style provides:

  • Tips on how to tame the "elephants of style"--the most important, frequently confused elements of good writing
  • More of Walsh's popular "Curmudgeon's Stylebook"--includes entries such as Snarky Specificity, Metaphors, Near and Far, Actually is the New Like, and other uses and misuses of language
  • Expert advice for writers and editors on how to work together for best results
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071422680
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/4/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 387,453
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Walsh is the copy chief for national news at the Washington Post and the creator of the popular Web site The Slot: A Spot for Copy Editors ( He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Elephant no. 1 Remember that you're not using a typewriter 1
Elephant no. 2 Letters of the law 9
Elephant no. 3 What's up? 17
Elephant no. 4 What to abbrev.? 43
Elephant no. 5 Which one is right again? 51
Elephant no. 6 Lies your English teacher told you 61
Elephant no. 7 Some gray areas 71
Elephant no. 8 Agreed? 81
Elephant no. 9 Cover your S 93
Elephant no. 10 A number of problems 107
Elephant no. 11 The adventures of Curly and Stitch 125
Elephant no. 12 Flair! Elan! Panache! 135
Elephant no. 13 Writers, typists, thieves and liars 157
Elephant no. 14 Writing and rewriting 163
The curmudgeon's stylebook (continued) : a web FAQ 177
Bibliography 225
Index 227
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    Alwayts Useful, Sometimes Funny

    By Bill Marsano. What a jolly season for word-lovers this is, what with Lynn Truss's 'Eats, Shoots, and Leaves' and this book by Bill Walsh coming along neck-and-neck and cheek-by-jowl. Walsh, who is the copy chief of the Washington Post, has written a far broader work than Truss's, with punctuation just one of the things covered (and usually very well covered). There's also grammar here and more important there is style. The author of such a book sets himself up, always. Many readers will assume or claim that he's preaching perfection and will therefore fall upon tiny errors yelling nyah-nyah in spiteful disvalidation of his whole work, of his very right to speak at all. Sorry but, admirable as it may be, prefection eludes and always will (Lynn Truss's first error is in her subtitle!). Mark Twain said, of perfection in English grammar, 'the thing just can't be done.' So let's be willing to give a little, and even accept the odd contradiction. That done, we find a pretty useful guide. It's mostly newspaper-oriented, but it's still a help to the ordinary writer and ordinary person struggling to commit a sentence and finding between the opening capital and the closing period a morass of weird plurals, nightmare collectives, number-of-the-verb, stylistic conventions, punctuational deadfalls and a lot of other horrors that make not ending with a preposition a treat (which taboo is, by the way, nonsense, as Walsh neatly explains). Walsh deals with most problems briskly and helpfully, and if you keep this book ever close to your heart it won't be long before you can toss off elegant vanity plates, bumperstickers and ransom notes without so much as a by-your-leave. And you will begin to enjoy doing so, because you won't be scared out of your wits half the time. (Most people dread writing as they dread public speaking.) I am generally dubious of copy editors; I consider them a species of vermin that should be hunted for sport. But I will go a long way with Walsh because he clearly thinks about the language and tries to make intelligent, workable decisions that help reader and writer alike. (Most copy editors simply trot out their pet peeves and hobby-horses, salt with ignorance and prejudice, and then damage the writer's copy, the hideous effects invisible until the crime appears in print.) I will unyieldingly dispute with him on two points, however. First, (free-lance) writers should absolutely not waste any time studying client magazines to learn their style. Magazines routinely pay writers poorly and abuse them in general; if they want their stylebooks followed, let the editors do some work for a change. (Editors don't have jobs. They have lunch.) Second, what's this foolishness about a ship being referred to as 'it'? That's an example of what offends me most about copy editors: their char-woman's mentality. Always trying to neaten up; emptying the ashtray every time the ash hits the glass; making you move so they can plump up the pillows. Busy, busy, busy! The net result of all this is damage to a language of which varioty is its chiefest glory. Referring to ships as feminine is a tradition many centuries old: it goes back to the Romans; it is established and understood; it is not to be dismissed by some petty tyrant with an itchy pencil. Maybe it's a question of political correctness. Maybe someone is pained because it excludes an entire sex (the male, I believe). Frankly I'm disinclined to believe that this will cause little boys everywhere to be discouranged from becoming ocean liners, but copy editors might very well fall for that.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor.

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    Posted January 1, 2013

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    Posted January 26, 2015

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