One of America’s foremost language experts presents an annotated edition of A mbrose Bierce’s classic catalog of correct speech.
Ambrose Bierce is best known for The Devil's Dictionary, but the prolific journalist, satirist, and fabulist was also a usage maven. In 1909, he published several hundred of his pet peeves in Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults.
Bierce's list includes some distinctions still familiar today--the which-that rule, less vs. fewer, lie and lay -- but it also abounds in now-forgotten shibboleths: Ovation, the critics of his time agreed, meant a Roman triumph, not a round of applause. Reliable was an ill-formed coinage, not for the discriminating. Donate was pretentious, jeopardize should be jeopard, demean meant "comport oneself," not "belittle." And Bierce made up a few peeves of his own for good measure. We should say "a coating of paint," he instructed, not "a coat."
To mark the 100th anniversary of Write It Right, language columnist Jan Freeman has investigated where Bierce's rules and taboos originated, how they've fared in the century since the blacklist, and what lies ahead. Will our language quibbles seem as odd in 2109 as Bierce's do today? From the evidence offered here, it looks like a very good bet.
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In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), defined cynic as “a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be”--a description he strove to embody throughout his long and witty career. His writing includes journalism, poetry, satire, and fiction, much of it based on his Civil War experience. In 1913 he set off for Mexico, then in the throes of revolution, and was never seen again.
Jan Freeman has been writing “The Word,” the Boston Globe's Sunday language column, since 1997. A lifelong usage geek with a graduate degree in English, she has worked as an editor at the Real Paper, Boston and Inc. magazines, and the Boston Globe.. She lives in Newton, Mass.
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Book Description Walker. 1 Cloth(s), 2009. hard. Book Condition: New. Best known for his Devil's Dictionary, journalist and professional cynic Ambrose Bierce was also a maven of English usage, and in 1909 he gave us Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Along with still-familiar distinctions—the which-that rule, less vs. fewer, lie and lay—it abounds in now-forgotten shibboleths: Ovation, the critics of his time agreed, meant a Roman triumph, not a round of applause. Reliable was an ill-formed coinage, donate was pretentious, and jeopardize should be jeopard. And Bierce made up a few peeves of his own for good measure—we should say "a coating of paint," he instructed, not "a coat." A century further on, Boston Globe language columnist Jan Freeman merrily takes on Bierce's quibbles, and uncovers not only how language changes but also how we use it and possess it."When the wisest language maven of this century takes on the wittiest (and most curmudgeonly) of the last one, the result is fantastically entertaining and insightful. You can dip into this book for pleasure, but you will also learn much about language, style, and the dubious authority of self-anointed experts."—Steven Pinker"Freeman, with her extensive explanations, comes off as the more practical and knowledgeable, but much of Bierce's greatness lies in his biting, snooty formulations. 'Ancestrally vulgar,' he'll sniff about one word, rolling his eyes . or 'irreclaimably degenerate.' What fun!"—The New Yorker"Ambrose Bierce's classic little book of Victorian-era grammar-grouchery lays down the law in a series of opinions that range from the conventional to the goofy. Jan Freeman's light-hearted look at how his edicts have fared a century later will be an eye-opener to those who confuse their specific language peeves with eternal truths."—Geoffrey K. Pullum"Bierce's collection of because-I-said-so strictures is an education in the persnickety side of English usage, but Jan Freeman's commentary on Bierce is truly enlightening, not just about the language but about how people judge the language."—Erin McKean 230. Bookseller Inventory # 31864
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