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Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing
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“A romp for the language obsessed, with a broad sampling of usage to help readers who want to become better writers.” — Nancy Almand (Library Journal)
“Bubbling with energy and conviction.” — Kirkus Reviews
From the Author
When I was considering writing this book, I went on a search for entertaining books on action words. The catalog at Harvard's Library coughed up 7,291 titles when I used "verbs" as my keyword, giving me books on Kru verbs, Russian verbs, Tzutujil verbs, Dakota verbs, Hebrew verbs, and Welsh verbs. There was Das Verb in German. There was Le Verbe Est un Navire in French. But there was no "The Verb Is a Boat" in English. There was no one book to help the hapless, sate the serious, or answer all the questions of writers like me.
But a hole in the market was not what made me want to Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch. I just had a lot to say about getting tense and being moody, about static sentences and dynamic ones, about the much-maligned passive voice, and about all those myths out there about language generally. When I was teaching I had started noticing that I was spending more and more time on verbs.
OK, I admit I'm kind of a geek. Deep down, I was dying to know whether experts would agree with my hunch about the primacy of verbs. I was curious about what the very first word of the very first speaker was. I wanted to know when babies turn from "mama" to "make me cereal!" And I wanted to bust some myths that I've seen over and over in other books on writing (like "prefer the Anglo-Saxon word"). So I gave myself a crash course in linguistics, digging into the linguistic underpinnings of language, the tumultuous history of Anglo-Saxon, the flawed history of grammar, and the wrong-headed ideas of many well-meaning teachers.
In addition to being a sucker for this historical stuff, I'm a fiend about literary style. I sweat over every word in my own copy and love watching sentences jump alive when I change just a few words, and especially the nouns and verbs. And as an editor, I've been telling writers for more than 20 years that to make their writing more dramatic and powerful they should improve their verbs.
So out of this obsession comes Vex, Hex, Smash, and Smooch. It is the first book for nonacademics to focus exclusively on the English verb--why it exists, where it works, and how it can transform the way we write. I have tried to apply the same sense of creative mischief that animates my other writing about language, in Wired Style and Sin and Syntax as well as on sinandsyntax.com. I want to write about this stuff in such a way that other writers--even if they're not as geeky as I am--will join me in the language sandbox, making a little mischief but, more importantly, finding a way to pack more meaning into every word.
Top Customer Reviews
The historical sections toward the beginning are very well executed, but they will appeal to fewer readers than the main chapters will.
A few highlights:
The vex-hex-smash-smooch pattern in each chapter makes the book both engaging and easy to follow.
Chapter 7 (Passive Restraint) has the least intimidating (and yet most comprehensive) treatment of when to use the passive voice that I've ever read.
Chapters 8 and 10 and 11 tie such topics as the imperative mood and the use of participles to writers' communciation goals, making the discussion accessible and practical.
Appendix 2 answers many common and grammar questions such as data vs. datum and agreement in neither-nor and either-or constructions. (Unlike some writing "experts," Hale correctly notes that you agree in those constructions with the second noun in the pair.)
Appendix 5 (called "Phrasal verbs", perhaps not her most engaging title) has a very helpful list of commonly confused or misused verb and verb phrases. Some are rarely sources of mistakes (bring down vs. bring up), but she also targets many of the most common offenders (like using "center around" rather than "center on," and using "try and" rather than "try to").
One recommendation for the next edition: a single list of vivid verbs like vex, hex, smash, and smooch.
Author, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates
Constance Hale stimulates writers to accentuate and resuscitate their sentences with better verbs— the "little despots" that dictate action. But it's not just about verbs; it's about better writing. It's about smashing bad habits, and flirting with new ones. It's about the rich history of our mutt of a mother tongue, and appreciation of it's evolution. And because the "antidote to anxiety is mastery" each chapter includes prompts to "try,do,write,play" and thus makes this a worthy reference for any writer who wants to cut loose on their literary dance floor.
I've been preaching the power of verbs for years. But Connie injects life and humor into the subject by citing examples from the Caesar to contemporary politicians.
Read the book. Integrate its wisdom into your writing. You won't regret it. Neither will your readers.
Buy this book. Read it. Then buy some more to give to others who'd appreciate learning how to add more oomph to their writing.
More than just a simple smooch for Hale! She defined her "Smooch"--a section she uses to end each chapter--as an opportunity for "showcasing writing that is so good you'll want to kiss its creator" (p. 18). Her book features "juicy words, sentences that rock, and subjects that startle" (p. 18).
Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! Calling all readers, writers, and connoisseurs of the English language--don't overlook this book. It is one of the richest, most edifying, thought provoking, thoroughly engrossing, sumptuously satisfying, and completely entertaining books I have read.
With 17 pages of splendid notes, a fabulous "Selected Bibliography" (10 pages), and 36 pages of appendices, Hale offers readers all they need (and more!) of resources. In books of this nature, one thrill comes from the tremendous depth of understanding Hale reveals and another from the breadth of knowledge displayed. I am immediately reminded of Roy Peter Clark's, The Glamour of grammar: A guide to the magic and mystery of practical English (another 5-star book that I previously reviewed for Amazon). In my mind, both books are "must reads"--and for many of the same reasons.
Hale's language is delightful and her instructions specific and to the point. Here is but one morsel as an example: "Are we splitting hairs? No. Graceful style requires graceful words. Precision requires nuance. Take utilize, a distinct word having a distinct sense: `to turn to practical use or account.' It suggests a deliberate decision or an effort to employ something or someone for a practical purpose. If what you mean to say is 'use,' utilize is a pretentious substitute" (p. 97). Valuable for her directness; invaluable for her insight.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book, like the author claims in the beginning, aims to give you the art of making sentences that have a pop to them, that are just as lively and spirited as the author... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Ibrahim
Excellently written. Writer's skills are perfectly realized in all her "syntactic creation" that conveys fundamentals of common linguistic practice.Published 12 months ago by DrewDrewTrong
by Constance Hale, © 2012
pages 140-141 of Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: A quote from John Hersey on Hiroshima. Read more
Some water stains and warping on the pages but i did buy it used so i guess i get what i deserve.Published on July 21, 2014 by Derek K.
I loved her first book, Sin and Syntax. It was and is a great grammar resource, and this new grammar book I've continued to use. Read morePublished on January 28, 2014 by Robert C Hall
Was hoping for a list of verbs with definitions, perhaps broken down by category. This is not that book. To which I'm sure any counter would contain: "get a thesaurus. Read morePublished on October 24, 2013 by Arc
A simply delightful read with activities to transform your mundane laundry experience into a pleasure. Read morePublished on August 23, 2013 by Alvin