Today's writers need more spunk than Strunk: whether it's the Great American e-mail, Madison Avenue advertising, or Grammy Award-winning rap lyrics, memorable writing must jump off the page. Copy veteran Constance Hale is on a mission to make creative communication, both the lyrical and the unlawful, an option for everyone. With its crisp, witty tone, Sin and Syntax covers grammar's ground rules while revealing countless unconventional syntax secrets (such as how to use-Gasp!-interjections or when to pepper your prose with slang) that make for sinfully good writing. Discover how to: *Distinguish between words that are "pearls" and words that are "potatoes" * Avoid "couch potato thinking" and "commitment phobia" when choosing verbs * Use literary devices such as onomatopoeia, alliteration, and metaphor (and understand what you're doing) Everyone needs to know how to write stylish prose-students, professionals, and seasoned writers alike. Whether you're writing to sell, shock, or just sing, Sin and Syntax is the guide you need to improve your command of the English language.
Hale, editor of the hip Wired Style (LJ 10/1/96), has put together a writing/grammar manual that is fresh and fun. The basic rules are here, and they are well explained. The "sin" from the title is partly advice on when and how to break these rules. The other sins are examples of oft-repeated mistakes. Readers will not be told how to write a novel, a poem, or a newspaper article, but if they are writing one this guide will help them use effective and artful language. The examples range from Dr. Seuss books to John F. Kennedy's speeches to commercials, and a short bibliography of books on writing, grammar, and language is included. Easy to understand and appealing to a broad range of readers, this book is highly recommend for all libraries. Lisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Three Rivers Press
March 19, 2001
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Excerpt from Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
The French mime Etienne Decroux used to remind his students, "One pearl is better than a whole necklace of potatoes." What is true for that wordless art form applies equally to writing: well-crafted prose depends on the writer's ability to discriminate between pearls and potatoes. Only some words are fit to be strung into sentences.
Great writers are meticulous with their pearls, sifting through piles of words and stringing only perfect specimens upon the thread of syntax. The careful execution of beautiful, powerful prose through beautiful, powerful words is guided by these principles:
Relish every word. True prose stylists carry on an impassioned, lifelong love affair with words, banishing bad words like so many banal suitors, burnishing the good ones till they shimmer. Be infatuated, be seduced, be obsessed.
But be smart about words, too. "All words are pegs to hang ideas on," wrote nineteenth-century essayist Henry Ward Beecher: words not linked to ideas are not worthy of writing-or reading. Once you've committed your words to paper (or to the screen), test each term. Does it carry your idea? Does it express, exactly, that once inchoate thought?
Sensitize yourself to denotation and connotation. Denotation, the dictionary definition of a word, refers to its explicit or literal meanings. Connotation, the suggestive power of a word, refers to its implicit or latent meanings. The denotations of peach (a single-seeded fruit with tangy yellowish pulp and downy skin that goes from yellow to red) and mango (a single-seeded fruit with a tangy yellowish pulp and firm skin mottled with greens, yellows, and reds) differ only slightly. But where peach summons up hot summers in Georgia and the cheeks of a Southern belle, mango conjures images of India and Mexico-and the paintings of Gauguin. The two fruits may be interchangeable in cooking, but wouldn't it be a mistake to swap in mango when writing about, say, the dusty peach chambres of a grande dame with a thing for Louis XVI?
Beyond the sense of a word is its sensuousness: its sound, its cadence, its spirit. In turning a phrase, let the words build like a jazz riff, allowing the meanings and melodies of one word to play off the meanings and melodies of the words around it.