- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Free Press; 0002- edition (December 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684826321
- ISBN-13: 978-0684826325
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Careful Writer 0002- Edition
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A little about Theodore Bernstein (November 17, 1904 - June 1979). He was an assistant managing editor of The New York Times and from 1925 to 1950 a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism. When he died, Time Magazine wrote an obit bio on him that read like this:
Back in the old days, a brilliant editor of The New York Times named Theodore M. Bernstein was also a professor at Columbia J School. After he died in 1979, Time Magazine noted, "Theodore M. Bernstein, 74...served as the paper`s prose polisher and syntax surgeon for almost five decades, authoring seven popular texts on English usage and journalism...In a witty Times house organ called `Winners and Sinners', the shirtsleeves vigilante caught solecists in the act."
Bernstein would have objected to their neologistic use of 'author' as a verb. Today, no one would even notice.
Besides covering basic good grammar, Bernstein addresses the idiomatic words that are more difficult to classify and covers them with the same rigor as he does the traditional words.
Here are some of his best tips:
* accident vs. mishap: 'accident' is an undesigned occurrence. 'Mishap' is an unfortunate happening.
* amid vs. amidst--Americans prefer 'amid'; Brits prefer 'amidst'
* can vs. may: use 'can' for ability or power to do something, 'may' for permission to do it
* elder vs. older: 'older' compares old things whereas 'elder' compares people
* he has lots of slang-type of phrases--guild the lilly, likes of, pinch hitter (which he terms a 'weary cliche'), some of which have since 1963 become mainstream. American English is nothing if not adaptive.
* hanker takes the preposition 'after' or 'for'
* hara-kiri--the correct word for the more popular term, 'hari-kari' and not a correct substitute for the Japanese ritual suicide, seppuku
* how come: out of place in good writing and not legitimized because Shakespeare used the term 'how chance'
* incidental: takes preposition to or upon
* libel vs. slander: 'slander' is oral defamation while 'libel' is defamation by any other means
* like vs. as: Bernstein takes three pages--filled with humorous examples--to explain the use of these two words
* madam vs. madame: one is a married woman; the other the keeper of a bawdy house
* may vs. might: 'may' is present tense; 'might' is past tense--who knew that?
* mixaphor--when a writer mixes his metaphors. I love this.
* pupil vs. student: those who attend elementary schools are 'pupils'; those who attend higher institutions of learning are 'students' (again, who knew? In this case, probably more of a history lesson than followed)
* sensual vs. sensuous: 'sensual' applies to gratification of the animal sense with overtones of lewdness; 'sensuous' applies to enjoyment produced by appeal to the senses.
* though vs. although: mean the same with two exceptions: 1) only 'though' can be used in idioms like 'as though', and 2) only 'though' can be used adverbially in a final position
If you are in a position where you must--really must--be accurate in your grammatical decisions, there is no better authoritative source than Bernstein. Others may have an educated opinion, but Bernstein is the trump card.
Who might benefit from Bernstein's work? Students, technical professionals, lawyers, teachers, professors--in short, anyone who writes.
Having spent several years as a technical editor, trying to translate the writing of engineers into readable English, I concluded that engineering schools don't spend much time on communication skills. I've since expanded that to include most professions and schools and colleges. People are daunted by the task of expressing their ideas in writing.
Mr. Bernstein helps greatly in this. Not only is this book going to help any writer/editor to trim down the non-essential verbosity and correct misused words, it will evoke the occasional chuckle.
A few reviewers argue that it is out of date because it doesn't include the internet or changes in style over the past 50-plus years. Ridiculous! The author's intention was to select the most common, everyday errors in grammar and print. These mistakes are still being made today - just pick up most newspapers, magazines - and worst of all, most blogs. How many blogs have you read whose authors confuse there and their, for example? Two of my friends are professors at different colleges. Sadly, they tell me many of their student papers are at a lower baseline than the one from which the author of this book assumes the reader is starting!
English is a beautiful language. To express oneself well in English is a joy. This book was written by a man whose intended audience were those who cared about it too.