Simanaitis Says

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STYLISH WRITING PART 1

THERE’S NO SHORTAGE of authorities on writing style, some of them even worth emulating. Readers of SimanaitisSays may already sense my trust in two sources, Merriam-Webster and The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

I also enjoy The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Plus, Wife Dottie recently gifted me with Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, by Benjamin Dreyer.

Here in Parts 1 and 2, today and tomorrow, I offer tidbits gleaned from each of these.

Benjamin Dreyer is vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief of Random House. What’s more, he has a droll wit and isn’t afraid of controversy.

For example, on Never Split an Infinitive, he says, “To cite the most famous split infinitive of our era, ‘To boldly go where no one has gone before.’ It’s perfect, just as it is.”

On a personal note, I try to avoid splitting infinitives, though I admit I’m no Captain James T. Kirk nor Benjamin Dryer either.

I am more aligned with Dreyer’s feelings on Never End a Sentence with a Preposition. He observes “This is the rule that invariably (and wearily) leads to a rehash of the celebrated remark by Winston Churchill that Winston Churchill, in reality, neither said nor wrote: ‘This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.’ ”

My favorite example, shared by mathematician and old friend Steve MacDonald, is in a poem by Morris Bishop. It ends with “Correctness is my vade mecum,/And straggling phrases I abhor;/And yet I wondered: What should it come/Up from out of in under there for?”

Merriam-Webster is my primary online source for English spelling, definition, and usage. In particular, it does not eschew political timeliness in its citations. I’ve found M-W helpful in my series of Etymology for our Times, the most recent example of which is “Etymology: Scoundrel.”

Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s grammatical definitions and rules are conservatively sound. It’s her examples that set the handbook apart. On Numerical Adjectives: “one fin, two fangs, six senses, three whiskers, fourth horseman, seventh afterthought, first bra.”

Concerning run-on sentences and other matters: “How he loved to dangle his participles, brush his forelock off his forehead with his foreleg, and gaze into the aqueous depths.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll turn to a trusty favorite, the microprinted OED and other matters Oxonian. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

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