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Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words Hardcover – August 13, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bestselling author Bryson's latest book is really his first: this guide to usage, spelling and grammar was first published in 1983 when Bryson (In a Sunburned Country, etc.) was an unknown copyeditor at the London Times, and has now been revised and updated for use in the U.S. Alphabetically arranged entries include commonly misspelled and misused words. He also includes common problems with grammar, as well as an appendix on punctuation. Bryson often cites the 1983 edition of H.W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage as an authority, though he also makes a handful of references to recent texts, such as the Encarta World English Dictionary and Atlantic Monthly columnist Barbara Wallraff's "Word Court." Despite the revisions, the book often betrays its origins as a British text, as in citing words in common usage throughout the U.K. and British Commonwealth, but rarely used by American writers, such as Taoiseach, the Prime Minister of Ireland or City of London vs. city of London. In addition, Bryson avoids taking on computer lingo, such as distinguishing between the Internet and the World Wide Web. Despite these shortcomings, Bryson's erudition is evident and refreshing. His passage on split infinitives, for example, asserts that it is "a rhetorical fault a question of style and not a grammatical one." Readers looking for the author's trademark humor will not find it here. Instead they will find a straightforward, concise, utilitarian guide, albeit one listing Bryson's "suggestions, observations, and even treasured prejudices" on newspaper writing primarily in Britain, circa 1983.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Offering "some 60 percent" new material, Bryson author of A Walk in the Woods, among other titles, and a former London Times copy editor has updated his 1984 work, The Facts On File Dictionary of Troublesome Words. He maintains a broad audience appeal by humorously addressing topics ranging from easily confused place names to geology's stalactite and stalagmite. The 1000 alphabetically arranged entries are often of the gantlet/gauntlet type, which offers clarification of definitions, spelling, and differences between U.S. and British English. Redundant wording is the other usage error most frequently mentioned, as seen in the entry "complete and unabridged." Prominent usage questions, e.g., dangling modifiers and the word hopeul, receive full-page or longer entries. Most notable among the entries are examples of erroneous usage quoted from prestigious publications, particularly newspapers. As in the first edition, Bryson presents an appendix and a glossary covering punctuation and grammatical terms. His work can be compared with William Strunk and E.B. White's Elements of Style in its concision but focuses more on usage errors, while Strunk and White's work expands to general guidance on good writing. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
- Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (August 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767910427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767910422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. For twenty years he lived in England, where he worked for the Times and the Independent, and wrote for most major British and American publications. His books include travel memoirs (Neither Here Nor There; The Lost Continent; Notes from a Small Island) and books on language (The Mother Tongue; Made in America). His account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, was a huge New York Times bestseller. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

182 of 188 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on March 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Not to gild the lily, this is to all intents and purposes a basically good book. Hopefully, it will be utilized to put an end to grammatical and usage errors, as well as misuse of apostrophe's, "quotation marks" and other punctuation.

If that paragraph above does not give you the dry heaves, you need to read Bill Bryson's "Dictionary."

Unfortunately, much as I enjoyed this book, I'm afraid it will appeal primarily to people who already know a lot of this information, instead of to the many who would benefit from reading it. And that's too bad ("The belief that *and* should not be used to begin a sentence is without foundation. And that's all there is to it." [p. 13]).

As Bryson notes, this book is not a style or usage guide. For that, I would recommend Fowler and Wallraff, sources Bryson often cites, and especially Bill Walsh's Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them. What this book does provide is a useful guide to clarity of expression through precise use of language. While many people may not know, or care, about the distinctions between "lectern," "podium," "dais," and "rostrum" (p. 119), for example, the distinctions are nevertheless important, and Bryson helps nail them down.

He makes the important point that English is a language without a governing authority. Tradition and usage define what's proper. Language is evolutionary -- an example, as Hayek noted, of spontaneous order. However, it's possible to take this idea too far.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Paul N. Walton on September 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words is a fun read for word enthusiasts. Written in his usual humorous style, it is full of interesting and in many cases unusual examples of correct English usage, as well as the basics, such as the difference between less and fewer for the surprisingly many that still don't know. Well worth having in your personal reference library.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Stephen J. Carlson VINE VOICE on July 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book that every serious writer should have in his or her collection. It is an excellent insight into the English language from "a" to "zoom." This book is an update of the 1983 version, and has been substantially improved both in length and in quality.
Bryson's Dictionary is useful when you want to decide whether to use "lay" or "lie," to know the plural of "faux pas," to spell the word "rottweiler," or any of a number of other confusing aspects of the English language.
In addition to the dictionary, the appendix has some rules of getting your punctuation right, which is followed by a bibliography and list for suggested reading (in case this book inspires you to go even deeper into the intricacies of the English language).
My only complaint is that there are some words that I would have liked to see included, but of course it would be impossible to write a book with every single confusing word.
Nonetheless, this book is an invaluable resource to anyone who enjoys writing and enjoys writing well.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jon H. on January 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
If you are one of those people who actually care about your writing, then this book is for you. I picked up a copy recently at a bookstore and I've browsed through most of it. I'm embarrassed to say that I found a few words that I had been using incorrectly!

I don't know if I'd really use this book over a 'real' dictionary, but I would definitely consider it if I'm unsure of a definition or the proper usage of a word. I expect that I'll be reviewing this book occasionally to make sure that there isn't some word that I'm slipping up on.

If you are self conscious and concerned about your writing, then pick up this valuable resource. I guarantee you'll be able to find something in the book that you haven't been using properly or misspelling (if that's not the case, then congratulations).
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "serracus" on February 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is entitled either plain "Troublesome Words" or in older editions, "The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words".
For most of us non-Grammarians whose English is instinctive rather than based on intimate knowledge of linguistic rules, trying to improve our English by reading books in grammar or English usage can be quite an ordeal, as most of them are dry and technical. Bill Bryson's book is slim (192 pages in my edition), palatable and great fun. Alphabetically, Mr Bryson sets out the most common mistakes in English spelling, grammar and usage which he has come across. Most of the more obvious "troublesome words" are covered succinctly, clearly and with lashings of humour. Examples: "VERY should be made to pay its way in sentences"; "VARIOUS DIFFERENT is inescapably redundant"; "The Oxford English Dictionary contains 414,825 words. IRREGARDLESS is not one of them." At the end of the book is a section on punctuation. Illustrations of correct and incorrect usage are helpfully given. What adds to the fun is that most illustrations of wrong usage are taken from leading US and UK newspapers and periodicals, and even occasionally from an authority on the language; how nice to see their feet of clay. Another point in this book's favour; Mr Bryson being an American who has spent much of his professional life in the British journalistic profession, sees things from both sides of the Atlantic and does not have an overt bias one way or the other. (Unlike many British who have an almost hysterical aversion to Americanisms.)
While admirable and enjoyable, this book is too short and too personal to serve as a good reference. If you have a particular problem, it may or may not be addressed in this book.
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