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New England

Ambrose Bierce's Write It Right: The Celebrated Cynic's Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers

Ambrose Bierce & Jan Freeman.
Publisher Walker  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
ISBN 9780802717689
Pages/Publication Date 230/2009
Daedalus Item Code 31864
This item is not available.
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

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