Monday, November 14, 2005

Style-wise, These are Trying Times

This past weekend, I’d resolved myself to set aside all book-related matters and relax – having just finished the first draft, it seemed a bit of a break was in order, and I thought a little distance would help with the editing process. My wife had tracked down a used copy of Blaylock’s The Last Coin (which, unless I’m much mistaken, is out of print and not terribly easy to come by), and it’s been forever since I was able to sleep in. Instead, the Blaylock sat unopened on my coffee table, and I was up before nine, plowing through style manuals, desperate to glean whatever I could from them before diving headlong into my manuscript. I read Bill Walsh’s Lapsing into a Comma cover to cover, perused The Gregg Reference Manual, and then dove in to that holiest-of-holies, Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

The problem with my style-sheet binge (inherent nerdiness-issues aside) is that I’ve already got my share of pet peeves regarding language and grammar; now, I’ve got the added burden of (transiently, at least) carrying around those of others as well. In this age of god-awful grammar and lazy internet-speak, I really don’t need to add to my list of irksome language transgressions.

One that’s really been driving me nuts is an ad for E-Loan, in which a guy is standing beside the road holding a sign that reads, “Honk. If you don’t like getting ripped off.” Periods. For no reason. Whatsoever. Tell me that’s not worlds of annoying.

Incidentally, the title of this post is cribbed from White’s essay on style, in which he dissects Thomas Paine’s classic line, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” A beautiful, stylish sentence if ever there was one. There are plenty of grammatically correct ways to achieve the same meaning, but what kind of crappy revolution begins with “Soulwise, these are trying times?”

Oh, and a couple of points of contention with the fair Professor Strunk – according to his rules, “Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities” is correct. For my money, that’s one ‘s’ too many, and one ‘A’ too few. Dickens never wrote a book called Tale of Two Cities, and if the ghost of Strunk himself came knocking at my door, he’d have a hell of a time convincing me otherwise.

Man, I’ve gotta get back to my book.