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Ben Yagoda? Not bad!

Posted by LushingtonTechWriter on March 13, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Gerald Lushington's Recommended Reading for Writers

A fair number of learned people have achieved fame or infamy for their attempts to teach the world to write better English.  I think it's a safe bet that I will achieve none of the above, but I nonetheless enjoy writing, and the mechanics thereof, and if I can impart a bit of enlightenment (or perhaps amusement) to the casual reader who stumbles upon my material, all the better!

 

One of those scholars who is enjoying a moment in the sun is Ben Yagoda, who was recently interviewed on National Public Radio regarding his recent book "How Not to Write Bad:  The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them".  At this point I will reserve judgment on whether this is a new classic in the old genre of writing about writing, but it certainly deserves a little attention in any blog that examines good writing.

 

Yagoda's main premise is that his extensive experience in teaching university English has enlightened him as to a relatively small number of distinct types of writing errors that tend to dominate the world of compositional glitches.  In light of this, he concludes that the world could use a book that specifically focuses on those usual grammatical suspects.  Fair enough!

 

What he comes up with is a mixture of the mundane and obvious (people frequently misuse commas and semicolons) and get tangled up in dangling modifiers (now where did I hear that phrase recently?).  I don't think many people will spend $10.20 on Amazon to get berated for these types of miscues, and his book probably doesn't provide a whole lot of valuable instruction on those moldies that one can't extract from a basic middle school textbook.  But fortunately he strays out onto a few limbs that yield more fascinating fruit.  Spell-checker abominations and thesaurosis (by which I mean the comic definition by Steve Poole, rather than the homonymous respiratory disease) are two increasingly common 21st century problems that are amusing to read about, and worth reminding lots of people over and over about.  How semi-intelligent people can ever place their literary creations at the mercy of computer programmers??  Isn't that a bit like asking your auto mechanic to do open heart surgery?  Furthermore, in addition to being attuned to such very modern perils, Yagoda is also open to emerging grammatical innovation that may actually improve the language.  English has proven to be a language of great plasticity, and don't for a minute think that the many millions of second-language English practitioners, social engineers, and technology gurus are not irrevocably transforming our grandparents' language into a dynamic medium of future communication

 

It's a mixed bag, but if you care about your writing and are seeking self-betterment through a curious combination of inspiration, amusement and good old-fashioned nagging, then this is a great book for you.


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Posts associated with the Lushington technical writing site reflect the honest opinions of Gerald Lushington and have not been affected by commercial interests or other inducements.


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