- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (February 13, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0767920775
- ISBN-13: 978-0767920773
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,499,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Yagoda (The Sound on the Page) isn't trying to reinvent the style guide, just offering his personal tour of some of the English language's idiosyncrasies. Using the parts of speech as signposts, he charts an amiable path between those critics for whom any alterations to established grammar are hateful and those who believe whatever people use in speech is by default acceptable. Where many writing instructors rail against the use of adverbs, for example, he points out that they can be quite useful for conveying subtle relationships ordinary verbs can't describe. Some of this territory is familiar—Yagoda even boils down the debate over "hopefully" to outline form—but every chapter has gems tucked inside, like the section in pronouns on the "third-person athletic," the voice celebrity ballplayers use to refer to themselves in interviews. And he's definitely in love with his one-liners, such as the quip that the only acceptable use of "really" is "in imitations of Katharine Hepburn, Ed Sullivan and Elmer Fudd." Readers won't toss their copies of Strunk & White off the shelf, but Yagoda's witty grammar will rest comfortably next to the masters. (Feb. 13)
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Advance praise for If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It:
“Absolutely required—and utterly fun—reading for anyone who cares about the work-in-progress that is the English language. Marvelous in every way.” —Christopher Buckley
“All hail to Ben Yagoda! Not only has he publicly rescued mother from the ubiquitous debasement of mom, and consigned shall to the schoolmarm’s dead-rules inferno, but—ebulliently—he dresses Fowler, his eminent usage-predecessor, in relaxed American shoes. Yagoda’s invigorating interrogation of our language will excite every syntax-obsessed reader and writer. (And there are more of us than you might think.)”
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Top Customer Reviews
"Ultimately, the issue of correctness just isn't very interesting," Yagoda writes. What is interesting are "words, phrases, and sentences that transcend their meaning - because they're smart, funny, well-crafted, pungent, unexpected, or sometimes wrong in just the right way." There are lots and lots of examples of such lively, perhaps grammatically questionable, usage in all the chapters here. The title of the book, about killing adjectives, is advice generally attributed to Mark Twain, who knew that using the right noun would preclude unnecessary adjectives. But adverbs get even less respect. Elmore Leonard wrote, "I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances 'full of rape and adverbs.'" Stephen King wrote, "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs." Yagoda says that two adverbs need special mention, and in so doing, demonstrates the subjective nature of judging usage. He doesn't like "arguably" as in, "He is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL", because it probably doesn't mean that anyone has taken this stance in an argument, but that the writer is withholding an opinion and standing behind a bogus adverb. But it is a surprise that he likes "like", as in "It's a complete obstruction of, like, freedom" because it makes the speaker seem less pompous (to be sure, this was a spoken, not a written example).
Yagoda dishes out such likes and dislikes in every chapter, with some being idiosyncratic and some conventional but for idiosyncratic reasons. For instance, in a section on sentence adverbs (one adverb to modify a whole sentence, as in "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn"), he says that the most abused and annoying sentence adverb is "actually" which is overused as in "Actually, he's in a meeting", indicating that not only is he in a meeting, but I am actually telling you the truth when he is in a meeting. (It's fun to play the select-the-most-annoying game, and for worst-used adverb, I would have voted for "literally", as in, "She was literally walking on air.") He doesn't like "hopefully" except as meaning "done in a hopeful manner", as in, "He opened the treasure chest hopefully", but thinks it fills a need, as in "The package will arrive tomorrow, hopefully" since "... arrive tomorrow, I hope" sounds Pollyanna-ish. He would not accept, however, such a formation in a written essay. He shows to be foolish one of the prescriptivists' darling rules, that of never ending a sentence in a preposition. The original rule came from Latin usage, not English. While it is true that sentences as a rule should end strongly, forcing a preposition to the interior can weaken it, as in "We are such stuff on which dreams are made", or can render it stupid, as in repairing "I'm turning in," by "Turning in I am," which, Yagoda says, not even Yoda could spout with a straight face. There is plenty of good sense here, and fun in every chapter (yes, in a book about grammar), as well as entertaining sidelights on such things as the origin of the ampersand symbol and the inventor of the @ for e-mail addresses. There is also a lot of good advice quoted from great writers. Yagoda's book won't replace any style manuals, but his tone of tolerance for eccentricity and enthusiasm for colorful usage is welcome, and his own writing is clever and funny.
As Ben Yagoda writes, "They (adjectives) rank right up there with ... the customer-service policies of cable TV companies."
And the reason for this animosity is that adjectives are often used by lazy writers, "who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun."
Those of you who love words will appreciate the glossary of unusual adjectives. Words such as lambent, nugatory and piacular definitely deserve to be let out more often!
It's not just adjectives that are examined in entertaining detail - every part of speech is covered. F'r instance how much do you know about definite and indefinite articles?
One of the things I've noticed when I edit work for people whose second language is English is that they have real problems using articles, and now I understand why this is so.
As Ben explains, "... by the age of four, native English speakers know in their bones the difference between 'I drank Coke,' 'I drank the Coke,' and 'I drank a Coke,' and the fact that you take a pass but the easy way out."
Can you imagine trying to learn these differences as an adult? It seems the problem is compounded (or alleviated) depending on the learner's native language. "Romanian, Macedonian, Swedish, and Aztec append the definite article to the back of a noun, and Arabic to the front ... Swahili and Latin rarely use articles of any kind. ... Polish, Russian, and Japanese are article-less as well. Arabic, Welsh, and Esperanto have definite articles but no indefinite articles. In French and German, the definite article is applied to proper nouns and the names of abstractions and classes of things ..."
Which brings us neatly to interjections ...
And so the book is filled with such interesting details about language that you'll find yourself carrying it from room to room as you go about your chores, loath to put it down ... Or is that only me?