What I’ve been reading

It may not surprise you that I do a lot of reading. I believe it is part of being a good writer and editor to constantly see how others are doing it, in lots of different forms, but I also just love to read. Besides an excess of political pieces (because who can stay away right now?) and my monthly National Geographic magazine, I’ve been reading the book Duck Season by Chicagoan David McAninch about his time eating and drinking in France’s Gascony region—which has made me want to both travel to France again and drink lots of red wine. Besides that, lately I’ve been reading a lot of nerdy stuff about grammar and content that many might find entertaining and insightful.

While looking through my old graduate school materials, I dug up the “Preface to the First Edition” of Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, and even though it’s just a preface I found it absolutely charming. Like us, Garner defends that the language is not decaying, despite rampant misuse, because there are people out there who still love and care about it. He also offers these sentences about people who still want to use English well: “They want to understand how to use words well, how to manipulate sentences, and how to move about in the language without seeming to flail. They want good grammar, but they want more: they want rhetoric in the traditional sense. That is, they want to use language deftly so that it’s fit for their purposes.” Swoon!

At Leff Communications, we are big fans of Steven Pinker, author of The Sense of Style. A friend recently sent me this old Pinker article on the 58 most commonly misused words and phrases (she gets me), and I was, again, completely smitten. He reminds us that enormity means extreme evil, not enormousness, and that fortuitous means coincidental or unplanned, not fortunate. ❤ ❤ ❤

The New York Times recently published this piece about our beloved Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It offers a glimpse into what it’s like to work in lexicography, which “involves wrestling with the continuous evolution of language.” Yes, these people still write definitions. One of the dictionary’s employees, Kory Stamper, reveals that she worked on the word “God” for four months, consulting with clergy members, theologians, and academics for help. She also recently published a book called Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, which, if anyone is looking for a gift for me, is definitely on my must-read list.

The Financial Times published a funny, snarky, and spot-on article lambasting Mondelez for writing this cliché-laced sentence when its head of marketing stepped down: “Our search for a successor will focus on finding a digital-first, disruptive and innovative leader who can build on Dana’s legacy and mobilise breakthrough marketing in a rapidly changing global consumer landscape.” We couldn’t agree more with the author of the article, who points out that although the first half of the sentence is bad, “the second half degenerates into sheer flatulence.” Write what you mean and avoid clichés, lest you be upbraided by FT.

I also try to keep up with every Q&A on the Chicago Manual of Style website because they’re both hilarious and insightful. Take this exchange between a user and a staff member, which happens to highlight a point we have made many times:

Q: I recognize all writing formats today say there is to be one space between the period of a sentence and the first letter of the next sentence. I believe this fails to take into account the studies that refer to visual cues that assist the reading process. So I start here with you to request this be fully discussed and reviewed with the hope that we may at minimum note that two spaces are acceptable between sentences. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

A: I’m so sorry to report that that ship sailed long ago. You are a lone voice, crying in the wilderness. Too little, too late; a bolted horse, a dollar short. No metaphor can express how hopeless this is. Our best advice to you is to look for a silver lining in the single space.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve read other pertinent grammar and content pieces lately, as we can’t geek out over this stuff enough.


Annie Mullowney

As a senior editor, Annie focuses primarily on developmental editing and drafting, helping clients sharpen their stories and tell them in a compelling way.

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