What do you get when you mix nine parts of speech, one great writer, and generous dashes of insight, humor, and irreverence? One phenomenally entertaining language book.
In his waggish yet authoritative book, Ben Yagoda has managed to undo the dark work of legions of English teachers and libraries of dusty grammar texts. Not since School House Rock have adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions, interjections, nouns, prepositions, pronouns, and verbs been explored with such infectious exuberance. Read If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It and:
Learn how to write better with classic advice from writers such as Mark Twain (“If you catch an adjective, kill it”), Stephen King (“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”), and Gertrude Stein (“Nouns . . . are completely not interesting”).
Marvel at how a single word can shift from adverb (“I did okay”), to adjective (“It was an okay movie”), to interjection (“Okay!”), to noun (“I gave my okay”), to verb (“Who okayed this?”), depending on its use.
Avoid the pretentious preposition at, a favorite of real estate developers (e.g., “The Shoppes at White Plains”).
Laugh when Yagoda says he “shall call anyone a dork to the end of his days” who insists on maintaining the distinction between shall and will.
Read, and discover a book whose pop culture references, humorous asides, and bracing doses of discernment and common senseconvey Yagoda’s unique sense of the “beauty, the joy, the artistry, and the fun of language.”
The Parts of Speech Can Be Fun
By R. Hardy "Rob Hardy" - April 3, 2007
Among writers of English, there is a strong interest in their own language, and a long tradition of manuals by writers who suggest how to use English without error. Ambrose Bierce wrote such a manual, and writers constantly refer (but not necessarily defer) to Fowler, and many can quote Strunk and White from memory. For some reason, contemporary writers on the subject of English are called "language mavens", and they are of two camps, the prescriptivists who would like to tell you how to say something properly according to the rules, and the descriptivists who document how the language is being (rather than should be) used. As usual, there are extremists at both ends of the spectrum, and it would be wise to stick to the middle. That does not mean staying bland. In _When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse_ (Basic Books), Ben Yagoda is happy to enjoy creative use of English that breaks rules. We would all be poorer without, for instance,... read more
Grammar Rules, OK
By Jennifer Stewart - March 15, 2007
Just what is it about the adjective that inspires such violent tendencies in otherwise peaceful people?
As Ben Yagoda writes, "They (adjectives) rank right up there with ... the customer-service policies of cable TV companies."
And the reason for this animosity is that adjectives are often used by lazy writers, "who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun."
Those of you who love words will appreciate the glossary of unusual adjectives. Words such as lambent, nugatory and piacular definitely deserve to be let out more often!
It's not just adjectives that are examined in entertaining detail - every part of speech is covered. F'r instance how much do you know about definite and indefinite articles?
One of the things I've noticed when I edit work for people whose second language is English is that they have real problems using articles, and now I understand why this is so.
Entertaining, but not something that will help you in your writing
By Edward Durney - October 7, 2007
When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It entertains. Ben Yagoda, the author, writes well. (Referring to him as "Ben Yagoda, the author," is a bit of a joke -- that phrasing sometimes means something special, as the book will tell you.) And Yagoda lays out the principles behind the parts of speech with a witty style that goes deep enough, but not too deep. Never a pedant, he still teaches.
But his style was a bit much for me. He reminds me of a friend who makes a joke out of almost everything. He's fun to be around for a while. But stay too long in his presence, and the urge to tell him to shut up becomes almost unbearable. Same with Yagoda for me.
One example Yagoda used -- as a preface to the section on prepositions -- shows why. E.B. White, co-author of the The Elements of Style and author of Charlotte's Web, once wrote in a letter: "The next grammar book I bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions. A father of a little boy goes... read more