I am that friend on Facebook who shudders when I see you’ve written “Which do you like better – cars or plane’s?” And (not-so-silently) judges you for not knowing the difference between possession and plural. I am regularly sent articles about grammar and spelling, and have received many tags on comics and memes. I will admit to being smug (at times) about my knowledge; other moments I find myself wondering if those who don’t follow the rules just really don’t care. Is spelling and the proper use of the semi-colon not as important as I think it is?
For my birthday this year, my mother bought be a copy of Mary Norris’ book. I had not heard of it, and was very interested in the topic (of course). She has worked for The New Yorker since 1978 doing jobs that I still can’t explain, but essentially had everything to do with style, editing and so forth.
Let me just tell you what I learned after reading this book: what I know about grammar can fill a thimble.
This isn’t a style book, per se, but there are plenty of examples in each chapter of the correct way (by The New Yorker‘s rules, anyway) to write. Oh boy. Should there be one word that could be used (“heesh” was one example) instead of having to always write “he/she” when the gender is unknown? Believe it or not, this was an ongoing debate for decades. Of course the serial/Oxford comma was discussed, as well as solecism, copulative verbs and diaereses (those two dots [not umlauts] used over the second of two vowels to show the beginning of a new syllable [as in naïve]).
All chapters include reminiscences of her time at The New Yorker, including the people she worked with and the type of pencil she prefers (#1!) as well as an entire chapter on cursing in print. My mom did read a lot of the book before she gave it to me (that’s what we do in our family; gift-giver’s privilege), but it is quite clear that she stopped before she hit the section on the f-word. Small mercies.
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris was published April 6, 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. This was a birfday prezzie. Thanks, Mom!
Genre: Non-Fiction Grammar/Writing
COYER Scavenger Hunt #75: Step outside your comfort zone and read a book in a genre you have read less than 5 times this year. (5 points)