Says Who?: A Kinder, Funner Usage Guide for Everyone Who Cares About Words

Crown. Mar. 2024. 320p. ISBN 9780593444092. $28. COMM
This cheerful usage guide for the English language stresses context, style, consistency, and kindness over supposedly immutable rules. Making grammatical decisions is effectively presented as an inner conflict that pits a writer or speaker’s personal “grammando” (grammar stickler) against their “wordie” (appreciator of linguistic flexibility and creativity). Curzan (English and linguistics, Univ. of Michigan; Fixing English) explores many points of grammatical confusion that give rise to such conflicts between grammando and wordie. She uses broad categories to first identify common grammatical conundrums such as punctuation, verb forms, word order, and pronouns. Within each category, she then examines specific examples in greater detail, such as when and how to use double negatives, why “funnest” could be a word, and why the passive voice is sometimes useful. Curzan humanizes her own grammatical decisions with stories from her life as a linguist. She also invokes the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, which until 2018 voted annually on preferred usage, as a barometer of changes over time.
VERDICT Highly recommended for all writers and speakers of English who want to understand why the language works the way it does.
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