Words & Stuff

hhh: Nitpickers R Us (Reader Comments and Addenda)

(20 April 1999)

Peter Fyfe recommends lyn dupré's BUGS in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose, published by Addison Wesley, as a good (and entertaining) style guide for technical writing. I haven't read it, but it appears to be highly regarded by others as well; I'll have to take a look at it.

(Which reminds me to mention Katherine Elizabeth Gordon's lovely Gothic grammar books, The [Deluxe] Transitive Vampire: A [The Ultimate] Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed and The [New] Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. (The bracketed words are because I finally purchased the old editions just before they were supplanted with updated and revised editions. There's some debate whether the new editions are as good; apparently they include a higher ratio of grammar rules to amusing examples.) I have not yet read Gordon's style manual, Torn Wings and Faux Pas: A Flashback of Style, a Beastly Guide Through the Writer's Labyrinth.)

Peter also notes, as I should have noted, that Chicago isn't nearly as useful outside the US: "as an Australian I have to be careful of American style: we tend to favour British, except when we don't."

And he concludes, "I think 'to be a nitpicker' is one of those irregular verbs: I am a purist, you are a pedant, they are a bunch of nitpickers." Very true.

Another thing I should have noted: Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation states that any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror. This column was no exception; I've just corrected one punctuation mistake, but there are certain to be others. Feel free to point such problems out to me, but please attempt not to be too terribly smug while doing so, and remember that my column is written in a semi-informal style that may result in a certain laxity about some standard rules.

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>