When my fellow blogger Marianne Goss offered some editing books, as I mentioned in a previous post, one of them I brought home was “On Language” by William Safire (New York, TIMES BOOKS, 1980). I recognized quickly that this book, a collection of definitions (and letters from readers) culled from his New York Times language column, could be a source of a series of posts. I sat down with some sticky notes to mark my favorites.
Good news, sticky-note makers: I just counted 22 notes stuck to the book.
So here comes another series, probably intermittent, considering the present circumstances.
Thanks to the internet, one of the more famous excerpts from Safire’s column is “Fumblerules,” listed in this book as “fumblerules of grammar.” They are the rules that include the mistakes they warn against, such as
“Avoid run-on sentences they are are hard to read.
“Don’t use no double negatives
“Don’t use contractions in formal writing”
“Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague, seek viable alternatives.”
You may have seen those, but missed Safire’s “”Fumblerules Follow-up.” Here’s some of it:
“Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
“If a dependent clause precedes an independent clause put a comma after the dependent clause.
“One will not have needed the future perfect in one’s entire life.
“Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.”
“Avoid colloquial stuff.”
So come on along, fellow word mavens, as I share some of the funny lessons from the master.
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