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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: 0.8 x 5.5 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 (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,856 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

82 of 86 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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62 of 68 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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26 of 29 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Scott Helm on July 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
I just ordered this book. I recently heard about it at the author's website and had to have it.
It was money well spent. I'm buying several more for my favorite copy editors.
This is a necessity for every copy editor or anyone managing copy for print. The author covered all of my pet peeves and touched on capitalization, math, pronoun and verb use and tech terms.
Bill Walsh's choices are sometimes at odds with what we find in the AP Stylebook, but he provides reasonable explanations for his rationale. A good read! This one will remain at arm's length.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Busch on April 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
Walsh's book is excellent, and a fun read. He even responded quickly to an e-mailed question asking for clarification on a rule regarding quote marks and other punctuation.

One caveat about some of the rules -- The book is written with newspaper writing primarily in mind, so some of the rules about how to handle titles may not apply to academic writing. Check the style of what you're working on.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is worth the 15 bucks if only for the section on quotes--it really shows how to properly construct them. Many other grammar books discuss the things we find in this book, but this author often goes a step further in his explanations. He writes, 'Semi-colons are ugly.' This is good because now we've heard something no other grammarian thought to tell us. It should be pointed out, though, that for the beginning writer there are other more practical grammar books. 'Woe is I' is one; 'English Grammar for Dummies' is another. Still, this book is a must-have for the serious writer.
The book is also annoying for several reasons. This notion that funny makes things more learnable has gotten way out of control. I want to go back to this book time and again but cringe at reading the same joke over and over. I also find the author's relentless name-dropping distracting. How can I concentrate when he's always going on about Nicole and OJ, Muhammad Ali, Newt Gringrich, et al? Then there's the subtle humor he's wont to use to make a point that's often too subtle--you need an extra second or too to deduce the gag.
In sum, the author obviously has a lot to share with us but overdoes the personality thing. When I want hip, subtle, and scads of personality I'll watch 'Friends,' I don't want to see all this in my grammar books.
Nat
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