Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review: DREYER'S ENGLISH by Benjamin Dreyer

Rating: 4/5 stars

I was casually flipping through this book at my bookstore on a slow day and knew immediately I was going to enjoy the whole thing just based off the two-page-long first chapter, so I decided that I had to read it.

Here’s the thing: I love the English language. I studied the linguistic side of it in school, I got an editing minor so I could become a copyeditor and fulfill my lifelong dream of getting paid to read books and fix their mistakes (which hasn’t happened yet, but maybe someday), and I pride myself on being able to use the language “correctly.” (If you’ve ever texted me you know I type only in full sentences without any abbreviations and with proper punctuation because it hurts me to do otherwise.)

I sort of miss my days in college when I was constantly learning and being challenged, and this book brought me right back there. It felt like something I would read for one of my classes, yet I read it of my own volition and still enjoyed it.

Dreyer essentially has written a style guide of the English language as he uses it. Does that sound particularly interesting to read? Not really. But is it interesting to read? Oh yes.

I’m glad to see that he’s not strictly a prescriptionist. As he mentioned and as I’ve heard many times in school, you have to know the rules to be able to break them. He talks about these classic rules and which ones should stand and which ones can be forgotten (or tactfully ignored), and he gives examples to support his reasoning. He would even purposefully break the rule in the same sentence that was explaining what the rule was. It was ironic and made me giggle. And he disagrees with Chicago on a number of things. As someone who adheres to Chicago’s guidelines myself, I couldn’t believe the chief copyeditor at Random House would choose not to abide by its standards but by his own rules; however, I quickly came to side with Dreyer on many of these concepts because his reasoning was valid and I couldn’t argue.

What I enjoyed the most about Dreyer’s English was his humor and wit. You didn’t think I could literally laugh out loud while reading a book about language, did you? Well, I did. Multiple times.

Dreyer has a fun way of defining words and differentiating them from similar words, so much so that I’m considering bookmarking certain words in this book rather than in my Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which is my go-to source for easily confused words.

This book was a good refresher of my editing skills, some of which I had forgotten. Plus there were a number of things I learned while reading this book, some of which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know before. Always learning, aren’t we.

If you are an editor, a writer, a fan of correctly used English, or someone who enjoys learning about style, usage, spelling, punctuation, etc. then this book is for you. I think it has earned a permanent place on my shelf, and I’m very glad I took the time to read it.
“The important thing to remember about peeves and crotchets is that your own peeves and crotchets reflect sensible preferences based on a refined appreciation of the music and meaning of the English language, and that everyone else’s are the products of diseased minds.”

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