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How to Tell Fate from Destiny: And Other Skillful Word Distinctions Paperback – Illustrated, October 23, 2018
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Elster's entertaining and instructive resource offers helpful suggestions for distinguishing between words often misused in conversation or writing. Elster points out that even professionals are vulnerable to error, as in this quote from the Guardian: "Tweets are stored on the device so you can keep reading even if you loose [lose] your phone signal." In each of the book's alphabetical entries, he includes two or more words that are confused, accompanied by clear examples and detailed explanations of the distinction between them. For instance, he writes, "to convince" means to "make someone believe something," while "to persuade" means "to make someone take action." The book includes entries both for words commonly used in conversation or writing--such as "amount, number"; "its, it's"--and for those less commonly used-- "capacious, commodious"; "auger, augur." Elster can be cheeky, as when he decries the use of "empathy" as a "trendy substitute" for "sympathy": "Sympathy is what you should feel for someone who displays a flashy word when an ordinary one is called for. Empathy is what you should feel when you've been making the same stupid mistake yourself." This appealing book will help readers over countless lexical stumbling blocks, and encourage clearer and more precise speaking and writing. -- Publishers Weekly
About the Author
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Illustrated edition (October 23, 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1328884074
- ISBN-13 : 978-1328884077
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 8 x 5.31 x 1.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #741,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Keep it around, though. It is a reliable source for writing or entertaining.
What it would be useful for is if you are writing something and had a question of yourself that you weren't too sure about - the difference between fate and destiny in other words. Like you think you know, but you're not sure. So this would be a way to have a clarification with more thought and creativity than a standard dictionary entry.
As somebody who writes, I run into this now and then. So I like the ability to *think* about these differences of word choices in a this detailed way. Plus, I liked the writing style of the book and it was fun just to read the various observations.
The negative about the book is there's no easy way to predict if a question can be answered. There's no table of contents, and while the words are alphabetically listed, you won't know if the book can help until you run into the problem and then check, and then hope the information is there. But if you're a writer, this is never going to be a flat-out unhelpful reference, but you just won't know until you get there.
I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys thinking about word choices, or better writing, or maybe a student in creative writing courses who wants to take writing more seriously but isn't sure how. This would be a good inspiration.
It is slightly encouraging to see examples provided in this book from reputable sources (like well-known newspapers and magazines) that still have these common errors in their writing. If anything, these examples prove how difficult it can be to distinguish the correct word usage over the more familiar word usage. Granted, many of the “correct” words don’t sound right to the common ear. However, those who want to show they are professional via their writing need to hold to these steadfast style guides and usage manuals (many of which are referenced throughout).
One of my qualms with this book is the large amount of semi-obscure vocabulary it covers. There were plenty of pages filled with words I had never seen and will likely never use in my writing. Perhaps this book is best used by those who consider themselves “literary” writers and thus end up using words that sound much loftier than they are. If anything, this book proves that professional writing abides by the idiom of “keep it simple, stupid.” Many of the Mark Twain quotes contained in this book say as much.
A useful resource for writers, especially those with a grandiloquent vocabulary, I give How to Tell Fate from Destiny 4.0 stars out of 5.