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Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

A New Style Guide? 5 Reasons (of Many!) to Read It


Photo Credit | EKHumphrey
You may see Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century in the bookstore and dismiss it as just another style guide. Well, it’s not just another style guide. There are many reasons I would recommend this book to writers and editors. Here are my top five: 
  1. The Sense of Style is conversational. I’ve read many dense and dry textbooks. (Haven’t we all?) Pinker makes the study of language accessible and, oddly, fun. He writes about grammatical concepts as if he’s explaining them to a relative. His balance of contemporary versus classic writing also reinforces the user-friendliness of the book. (It’s okay if your relative mentions Oedipus occasionally to make a point about sentence structure, but rather tiresome if those are the only examples.) 
  2.  The Sense of Style is a visual book. No, it’s not a picture book; however, Pinker uses webs and diagrams and line drawings and nodes to illustrate his approach to writing well. His approach uses these “trees” to tease out how to build strong sentences. If you’ve ever had trouble with grammar, Pinker sympathizes with you, as a writer or reader. The line drawings help to illustrate not only grammar concepts but how confusing other concepts, like sentence diagramming can be. 
  3.  Pinker deflates bad advice. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and some other language books. One of the tenets of The Elements of Style—“14. Use the active voice”—most writers can recite in their sleep. Pinker writes early in his book that “Linguistic research as shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader’s attention and memory.” He is a scientist and has research to reinforce his points on strong language.
  4. Pinker embraces the fact that language has changedand willchange over time. Throughout this guide, Pinker dissects classic and contemporary writing. In doing so, he manages to bring the reader with him on the journey of the changes of our language. He inspects the sentences, twisting them in the light and bringing the spotlight to a phrase or sentence structure. 
  5. The Sense of Style has practical reference sections. How do the “purists” believe a word should be used and how is the word commonly used? Or what is the preferred usage of a word versus its problematic usage? Pinker lists some of the ones that trip up many writers and the lists are infinitely useful (and educational!). Along the way, Pinker inserts his humor. For example, in the Comment column he refers to one problematic usage as “Nails on a chalkboard.”

Is there a language book that you've enjoyed and has made you think of language a new way? If so, what book is it?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor enjoying reading outdoors in the fall weather. She has lately been spending a lot of time with pumpkins and warm drinks.

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3 Comments:

OpenID nrpin said...

It is a very interesting and insightful post...yes, the classic and contemporary writing, the aspects of language and the visual character of the book. It all matters and matters hugely in the manifestation of the personality of a book and the style of writing...

8:39 AM  
OpenID nrpin said...

It is a very interesting and insightful post...yes, the classic and contemporary writing, the aspects of language and the visual character of the book. It all matters and matters hugely in the manifestation of the personality of a book and the style of writing...

8:39 AM  
Blogger Patricia A. McGoldrick said...

Look forward to reading this newer, style book!

9:03 PM  

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