Essential English | Reviews
Pimlico 296 pages (Paperback)
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'...a book that sensitises the reader to the use of language. As Evans observes, ‘Look after the words and style will look after itself.’ That’s what every writer needs to do, and this book is a good way of going about it.'
You’re probably asking yourself, ‘why do I need a book on English for journalists? I’m a novelist/a biographer/an essayist. What’s this got to do with me?’ Look at it like this. If, as Harold Evans and Crawford Gillan claim, the journalist and the text editor are the daily arbiters of our language, people with enormous influence on how it’s used, who better to turn to for advice on how to refine your work? You don’t have to be a journalist to get some benefit from this book, and, if you’re not a journalist, rest assured it won’t lead you into writing journalese.
Far from it. You can look forward to reading some of the most exacting analysis of how to use words and sentences effectively, from people who spend their working lives trying to stamp out journalese.
Good newspaper English has to be clear in its meaning, and succinct. Which means that the language used must be specific, emphatic and concise. Evans and Gillan believe this puts the good journalist firmly in the same camp as the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Somerset Maugham and George Orwell, some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. There are few better places to be. To achieve this, the authors set about showing us the basics, how to use sentences, and how to use words. This may sound dull but it’s anything but. Simple sentences can be used in surprisingly complex ways, without losing their clarity and without being monotonous. And the advice to ‘use specifics, avoid abstractions,’ is accompanied by some horrible examples of what happens to writers who get tangled up in the abstract. By the time you’ve thought about writing with nouns and verbs, discarded those meaningless modifiers, and checked that you’re using the correct meanings of those words, you’ll be looking at your own writing in a completely different way, and you’ll be glad you took that advice.
Every time I read this book (and I think it’s a book that should be re-read often), I’m struck by a new example of English gone wrong. In a world that’s awash with poor usage, this is a book that sensitises the reader to the use of language. As Evans observes, ‘Look after the words and style will look after itself.’ That’s what every writer needs to do, and this book is a good way of going about it.
|Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller|