You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

Reluctantly, I judge your book on grammar

The Baltimore Sun

In reviewing books here, I focus on positive comments. After all, I have a backlog of reading that should last me to Methuselah's age, so why spend time on books that would waste people's time 

Today I'm making a reluctant exception because a book that has come to hand, though not compelling itself, points me to a larger issue.

The book is Delusions of Grammar: The Worst of the Worst (St. Martin's Griffin, paperback, $12.99) by Sharon Eliza Nichols, who operates the Facebook group I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. The book presents more than 300 color photographs on high-grade paper of various errors. 

It is pretty much what you would expect: typographical errors in signage, apostrophes used to make plurals (PLACE TRAY'S HERE), other apostrophe errors (MY DAD'S TATTOOS ARE BETTER THAN YOUR'S), there/their/they're confusion, mistaken homonyms (Naval oranges), other spelling errors relentlessly repeated. They are numbingly repetitive. Hilarity does not ensue. 

This is what discussions of grammar and usage on social media frequently come down to. Spelling and punctuation, the most trivial and easily spotted errors in writing, so that people who remember to distinguish your from you're can preen themselves publicly on their literacy and learning, as if they were like Irish monks preserving civilization from barbarism. Morally, this occupation is akin to fishing with dynamite; not much in the way of skill is required. 

Really, people publishing about grammar and usage might make an effort at something more substantial, more sophisticated, more satisfying. No doubt carping about this particular book makes me sound sour and humorless. But thirteen bucks for this? Thirteen bucks could buy you a couple of pints of Smithwick's. Or a copy of The Old Editor Says, with change left over. You could do better. 

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