Sunday, November 8, 2009

Woe is I

I thought the only book on grammar that I would ever need was Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (Original Edition). It probably still is, but there’s another that I just plain want, and that’s Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I.

This book is filled with useful advice and examples, but is also a breezy, amusing read. I like the wrongly constructed sentences such as “Already housebroken, the Queen brought home a new corgi”. Other examples draw on characters from both P. G. Wodehouse and The Simpsons.

If a sentence has a smaller sentence within it (surrounded by dashes or parentheses), don’t use a period to end the “inside” sentence: When Apu made him an offer – “I could use some help around the store” – he accepted.

The book also discusses grammatical rules which may no longer be in effect (e.g. “never split an infinitive”) and includes a section at the start about why English is so complicated compared to languages such as Esperanto. It would be a good addition to a writer’s bookshelf – and a great gift to someone who needs help with grammar but doesn’t want anything dry or didactic.

Because a book with sections titled “Metaphors Be With You” and “Comma Sutra” is anything but.


The title “Woe is I” sums up how I’m feeling right now. I caught what hopefully isn’t the flu last week and am trying to recover before classes start again on Monday… and before the Anatomy practical test on Tuesday. So NaNo (and pretty much everything else) is on the shelf right now.


JH said...

Feel better, Marian!

Hey, I wonder what you think of this critique of the Elements of Style?

Mary Witzl said...

That book does sound good. I can't remember which edition of Random House Dictionary it was, but one of them had a fantastic grammar/style section that had all sorts of good stuff like this in it. That first example you gave is a dangling participle, isn't it?

"Torn and illegible, he got his mother's letter a week late." I see a sentence like that and it's like a red flag waved in front of a bull! But I split infinitives with verve and abandon and happily end my sentences with prepositions.

Maria Zannini said...

I'm so sorry you're feeling poorly. Get yourself back in bed and snuggle under the covers.

Be sure to keep a bottle of water by your bedside so you don't get dehydrated.

--I'm sure you're smart enough to stay home tomorrow if you're not feeling any better. Don't be a hero.

A. Shelton said...

I hope you feel better soon, Marian.

Marian Perera said...

Hey JH,

I read the critique. There's a lot of subjectivity when it comes to writing, and with matters like the use of the passive voice... if you know the rules well enough to break them, and to achieve something better in breaking them than you would have if you followed them, go for it.

I've always treated "none" as the singular "not one" and will probably always do so, therefore I wasn't too impressed by three variations on this.

That's pretty much all I have at six in the morning while doped up on aspirin. :)

Marian Perera said...

Hey Maria,

Thanks for the kind words. I really wish I could stay home and in bed, but I can't afford to miss the two labs (chem and micro) today. I'm feeling a little less wretched, though - not great, but at least ambulatory.

I'll take a bottle of orange juice to class.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, A. Shelton. I'm just so relieved that this didn't happen while the midterms were going on. As it was, I could barely study for the Anatomy practical yesterday.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Mary,

It's a dangling phrase of some kind, but I just can't remember what (not a preposition, anyway). I rarely remember the exact names of such errors, though I can identify what they look like. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Marian,

Hope you're feeling better!

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, Tasha! Yeah, to some extent. I still have a hacking cough and am now scrambling around trying to get a huge lab math assignment complete before tomorrow, but at least the Anatomy practical was OK.

Watched the trailer of The Lovely Bones while I was having breakfast. Want to watch the film. I won the book in a contest so I'm hoping I get that first.

JH said...

TBH, I have never seen "Don't use passive voice" as a rule to be broken carefully... It has a legitimate use, the problem is people not understanding that use and using it incorrectly.