Greater Than Its Parts
Did you know that Gabriel Garcia Marquez announced that his book "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" contains but a single adverb, or that Elmore Leonard posted on the Web a list of writing rules to live by? No. 4 is "Never use an adverb to modify the word said. This sounds like a silly rule, but when you put it into practice, it usually improves your writing (she said dogmatically)."
Such incidental bits of information fill linguist Ben Yagoda's little book, "When You Catch an Adjective Kill It." But he has done more. He has magically combined a serious description of the parts of speech and their use and misuse with entertaining examples. He offers help to anyone interested in using words better.
As for me, after reading this discussion about the parts of speech, I will never again worry about using the plural they with an indefinite subject.
Shakespeare did it: "God send everyone their heart's desire" ("Much Ado About Nothing"). The "prescriptive" grammarians' insistence that we use the "masculine generic" in such cases could lead to this sentence: "No person shall be forced to have an abortion against his will."
Those of us "of a certain age" probably recall the Goops, those horrid creatures who had no idea of how to behave properly. Our families used them as tools to teach pleasant manners. They were the 1924 comic strip invention of Gellett Burgess, who brought us the famous rhyme about the purple cow ("I never saw a purple cow," etc.).
His Goops "they lick their fingers,
"And the Goops they lick their knives,
"They spill their broth on the tablecloth
"Oh, they live disgusting lives."
Lesser known is Burgess' dictionary of words he invented. Now with "Burgess Unabridged: A Classic Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed," Walker & Company has brought us a reprint.
If you are looking for smiles, you will enjoy this "dictionary." Some of its words (blurb, bromide) have entered the useful language, but as for practical help with your writing, your use of words like cowcat (an unimportant guest) will probably not get by any copy editor. S