These fifty humorous misrules of grammar will open the eyes of writers of all levels to fine style.
How Not to Write is a wickedly witty book about grammar, usage, and style. William Safire, the author of the New York Times Magazine column "On Language," homes in on the "essential misrules of grammar," those mistakes that call attention to the major rules and regulations of writing. He tells you the correct way to write and then tells you when it is all right to break the rules. In this lighthearted guide, he chooses the most common and perplexing concerns of writers new and old. Each mini-chapter starts by stating a misrule like "Don't use Capital letters without good REASON." Safire then follows up with solid and entertaining advice on language, grammar, and life. He covers a vast territory from capitalization, split infinitives (it turns out you can split one if done meaningfully), run-on sentences, and semi-colons to contractions, the double negative, dangling participles, and even onomatopoeia. Originally published under the title Fumblerules.
There are only so many ways to denounce the double negative, and Safire hasn't discovered a new one. This slim style guide rehashes that not uncommon mistake along with 49 other equally obvious bloopers, which Safire boils down to short phrases that both illustrate and encapsulate the rule; e.g., "no sentence fragments" and "don't use contractions." Much of the text feels recycled from Safire's weekly "On Language" columns in the New York Times Magazine. A section on onomatopoeia, for example, is little more than an excuse to recount the origins of "zap." Even with such meager content, the book is repetitious, attacking more than once "the pretentious use of dead words" and outdated slang, colloquialisms and dialect. Some passages, like an account of the debate over using "he" as a universal pronoun, are long past their sell-by date. That's probably the biggest problem with this would-be stylebook: the language mavens who are Safire's core audience will find it all overfamiliar, while graduating high school students, into whose hands the book will certainly fall, may regard the author's humor as terminally unhip. Strunk and White's no-nonsense Elements of Style remains the young writer's best bet.