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Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them Paperback – May 1, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0809225354 ISBN-10: 0809225352 Edition: 1st

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Lapsing Into a Comma : A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them + The Elephants of Style : A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English + Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 1st edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809225352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809225354
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Who knew a stylebook could be so much fun? For lovers of language, Lapsing Into a Comma is a sensible and very funny guide to the technicalities of writing and copy editing. Author Bill Walsh, chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post, humorously discusses the changing rules of proper print style in the information age. Is it "e-mail" or "email"? According to established grammatical rules, it should be e-mail, but in common practice, we often use email (which should be pronounced "uhmail," but we all know not to do that). Therefore, email is OK.

Walsh does not advocate tossing your AP Stylebook, but he does encourage using your head and not blindly adhering to formal rules. "A finely tuned ear is at least as important as formal grammar," he says, "and that's not something you can acquire by memorizing a stylebook." What about companies that use punctuation in their logos? Walsh cautions against confusing a logo with a name. You wouldn't use "Tech Stock Surge Boosts Yahoo!" as a headline unless you wrote for a very excitable newspaper. And then there's arbitrary capitalization. "The dot-com era has leveled a wall that Adidas and K.D. Lang and Thirtysomething had already cracked," says Walsh, "and suddenly writers and editors faced with a name are asking, "Is that capitalized?"--a question that's about as appropriate as asking a 5-year-old, 'Do you want that Coke with or without rum?'"

The first half of Lapsing Into a Comma zips along, making you think about the intricacies of grammar and editing--all while trying not to choke on laughter. The second half is Walsh's personally crafted style guide. Remember--Roommate: Two m's, unless you ate a room or mated with a roo. --Dana Van Nest

From Library Journal

This style manual is meant to serve as a companion to the Associated Press style manual. And what Walsh, copy desk chief at Washington Post, adds to Style is styleDthe element that the ever precise and dry traditional manuals often lack. Walsh's acerbic tone adds humor to the dry distinctions between "there, their, and they're," which never hurts and may, in fact, contribute to permanent retention. Taking on the web's contributions to slang, such as the prefix "e-" before mail and business, Walsh strikes frequent compromises between traditional style and contemporary usage and concisely explains correct pronunciations and proper definitions of words frequently used incorrectly. A few of the examples of common incorrect usage apply primarily to news reportage, but most have broader application. Those who like curmudgeonly humor find Walsh's writing method rather amusing. A good title for public and college libraries, especially those with the AP style manual.DRobert Moore, Raytheon, Sudbury, MA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I'm a newspaper copy editor, at The Washington Post since 1997, and the author of "Lapsing Into a Comma," "The Elephants of Style" and "Yes, I Could Care Less."

You can find me at www.theslot.com or on Twitter as @TheSlot.


Customer Reviews

Excellent reference, well written, entertaining.
Dolores A. Lindsay
Once you get the book, don't be surprised if you look up how to use a semicolon and find yourself still reading the book a half hour later, chuckling all the way.
MLPlayfair
This book is directed at people who want to write, especially aspiring journalists.
Diana Hirsch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Kristin S. on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
After having "the media are" drilled into my head through four years of journalism school, I screamed when Bill Walsh said it's OK to say "the media is." However, I have to admit he has a point, and he states it well.
Walsh says it is difficult to "truly understand the reasons behind the rules -- and therefore know when they should be ignored." He knows enough about grammar to be able to give legitimate reasons for ignoring some rules.
This is not your grandmother's grammar. "Web site" vs. "website" and "e-mail" vs. "email" are the subjects of several rants. And Walsh casts his blessing on split infinitives and sentences beginning with conjunctions.
Throughout these grammar and style lessons, Walsh's writing is interesting, fresh, convincing, intelligent and, yes, funny.
This is a book for grammar-geeks and grammar-phobes alike.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful By MLPlayfair on August 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I admit it -- I'm one of those people who can sit in a cornerreading a book on grammar and be perfectly content for hours. I'm also one of those lucky enough to have stumbled across Bill Walsh's Web site...several years ago. Here in this fabulous book he has transferred most of the good advice from his Web site, so that I can now carry it with me wherever I go. (Would I actually do that? Hmm ...)
Bill makes the subject of grammar not only readable, but fun. Yes, I said "fun"! He argues against some of the "silly taboos" of ancient grammatical rules, but he also makes suggestions about when to go along with the rules even if they don't make sense, "if only to avoid the scorn of the misinformed legions." His examples are often hilarious: "Individuals who need individuals are the luckiest individuals in the world"; "Why does Paul McCartney want me to live on his piano?" (You'll have to look in the book for an explanation.)
No, I'm not on his payroll, but I am in his debt. I've used his advice to help me decide how to rewrite a sentence (I don't always agree with him, but it's a real rarity when I don't) and used his examples to add humor to my day. Once you get the book, don't be surprised if you look up how to use a semicolon and find yourself still reading the book a half hour later, chuckling all the way.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Erica on July 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Every copy editor (and many who think they're copy editors) should own and faithfully read and reference this book. "Lapsing into a Comma" has the same wit and humor previously found on Walsh's Web site The Slot, and keeps things in a clear and concise fashion that anyone (and by that I mean non-grammar people like myself) can understand. The book answers several questions the AP Stylebook just doesn't cover, and clarifies several things the stylebook does cover.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leeper on March 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Bill Walsh is the copy desk chief (business desk) for the "Washington Post." He explains his background in journalism and refers, at times, to the AP style. Don't let this mislead you. Even though a few items are related directly to newspapers (like the section on headlines and captions), the wealth of information is helpful to anyone trying to better his or her writing.
With many grammar textbooks, the reader tries to understand correct grammar and punctuation with rules explained in a confusing manner. The reader will re-read the rule a few times just get the basic idea. In Walsh's book, I found the explanations clear, witty, and helpful. I found his explanations and examples help me in developing my ear for proper grammar.
In the latter half of the book, Walsh has a stylebook with many common errors in writing. Granted, some are so specific that I don't know if they would help me (like knowing that it is Elisabeth Shue and not Elizabeth Shue). Nonetheless, I feel stronger about my grammar skills after reading this book.
I would recommend this book to all people wishing to improve their grammar skills.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on April 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
In his first sentence of his first chapter, Bill Walsh quips that the point of his stylebook (style book?) is to make you skeptical of stylebooks. He's right that existing stylebooks are inconsistent and often ruinously outdated, but there's reason to be skeptical about this here guide as well. Walsh is a longtime (long-time?) copy editor (copyeditor?) in the newspaper business, so the reader certainly benefits from his practical experience. Walsh has plenty of entertaining anecdotes about mistakes and poor decisions made by writers and editors when they try to follow established stylebooks to the letter, and he also has plenty of useful pointers on how tricky matters of grammar and punctuation should be done correctly. Unfortunately, in the end this book does little to alleviate the ongoing style difficulties that Walsh brings to light, albeit in his usually engaging and curmudgeonly fashion.

While he admits that his examples of editing issues are arbitrary and merely meant to highlight his biggest pet peeves, one must wonder how such examples benefit the serious reader. Granted, some are entertaining, like the proper way to cite a Playboy Bunny vs. the Playmate of the Month. But some are too curmudgeonly for true usefulness - Walsh should probably get over his annoyance with improper pluralization of the Airborne Warning and Control System; and some are just plain bizarre - like Walsh's weird obsession with the use of "Star Wars" for films other than Episode IV. A more fundamental problem is Walsh's inconsistent opinions on the evolution of language over time. Sometimes he's for it, but other times he becomes the type of strict anti-change language snob that he cracks jokes about earlier in the book.
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