The Elephants of Style / Edition 1

The Elephants of Style / Edition 1

by Bill Walsh
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Pub. Date:
McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
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The Elephants of Style / Edition 1

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071422680
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date: 03/04/2004
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 291,019
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: What We Talk About When We Talk About StyleXI
Elephant No. 1Remember That You're Not Using a Typewriter: Style Begins With Form and Format1
Also, Remember That You're in the United States
Elephant No. 2Letters of the Law: Common Missteps in Spelling9
Elephant No. 3What's Up?: All About Capitalization17
Everything's Generic
What's in a nAME?
Elephant No. 4What to Abbrev.? The Short and Shorter of Truncations, Acronyms and Initialisms43
Initial Reactions and Second Thoughts (IRAST)
Elephant No. 5Which One Is Right Again? A Quick Review of Problem Pairs (and Trios and ...)51
Elephant No. 6Lies Your English Teacher Told You: The Big Myths of English Usage61
Elephant No. 7Some Gray Areas: Proceed With Caution71
Elephant No. 8Agreed? Making Sure the Parts of Speech Get Along81
Elephant No. 9Cover Your S: Possessives and Plurals93
Elephant No. 10A Number of Problems: Counting on 100 Percent Correctness107
Elephant No. 11The Adventures of Curly and Stitch: The Comma, the Hyphen, the Headaches125
Elephant No. 12Flair! Elan! Panache! A Few Potshots About Style-With-a-Capital-S135
Colors Are Pretty, but How About Just Giving It to Me in Black and White?
What Is, Is: Can't Argue With That
The Spin Wins: Great Moments in Obfuscation
Madam Chairman and That Friggin' Masseuse: Taking Linguistic Evolution Like a "-man"
Elephant No. 13Writers, Typists, Thieves and Liars: Plagiarism and Its Kin157
Elephant No. 14Writing and Rewriting: A Writer-Turned-Editor Writes About Editing and Being Edited163
From From to To: Everything's Ranging
Snarky Specificity
Literal and Conservative: George Washington Wasn't Really Our Father
The Curmudgeon's Stylebook (Continued): A Web FAQ177

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The Elephants of Style 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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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