Answering a Couple of Blog Readers’ Comments

# 1

I was quite surprised to get a response just now from reader “Editor” who was replying to a posting on November 3, 2008 [THANKS, MELISSA GARCIA AND COMPANY, FOR KEEPING AN ARCHIVE GOING], titled “Ten Commandments for Writers of Fiction,”  in which I made some vanilla observations about the writing trade and then quoted verbatim a squib by Nancy Kress, who had compiled the “Ten Commandments.”   “Editor” wanted to know which of these I considered most important.  Well, I would suppose that Ms. Kress would probably have said that her first directive was most important.  Were I to choose, however, I would probably suggest a tossup between two of her edicts:

III.  Keep Sacred Thy Work Schedule

IV.  Honor Thy Readers

Most successful writers who’ve made both money and won recognition from critics and reviewers [refer to Anthony Trollope,  Ernest Hemingway,  J. K. Rowling] have typically kept a strict work schedule:  usually in the same place,  at the same time, and with the same tools to work with.

And I also think it is important that a writer be honest and consider the audience for his work.  For a diarist, he or she might be that reader.  For a letter writer,  it might be one or only a few readers.  For the greatest success and personal satisfaction, the intended audience is likely to take the shape of an “ideal reader” or “readers.”  The writer would seek to satisfy the standards and expectations of that audience before he or she would try to publish more widely.

RJR  (continuing)

# 2

Dennis wrote an E-mail on March 27, which somehow slipped by me until very recently.  He had a very interesting point:  “I’m curious as to whether or not you have read that book *Freakonomics.*  Steven Levitt discusses the impact the name one is given at birth has on one’s life.” I suggested in a reply to Dennis that the topic itself was very interesting and that I had not read Levitt’s book, but I thought I had come across some commentary or maybe a review of it quite some time back.

Continuing now (RJR) after  a bit of online research.  I confess to being an ignoramus for being ignorant of the book, the title of which Dennis provided.  Since then I’ve found out that Steven Levitt is a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and that his coauthor,  Stephen J. Dubner, is an author and journalist who lives in NYC.  This book came out some five years ago, I believe, and it has sold worldwide something over 3,000,000 copies and been for many, many weeks on the bestseller lists.

Dubner and Levitt cohost and comanage a blog site in the online version of the “New York Times.”

My first impression here is that these two authors have taken “the dismal science” (as economics as a field of study has been termed) and turned it into “The Katzenjammer Kids,”  an old comic strip with bratty kids that I used to read and enjoy.  I’m now eager to learn more!

RJR (and continuing)

# 3  Jeff Thompson noted that “alumnus” is always a singular noun, its plural being “alumni” [just as,  I might add, “alumna” is singular for a female graduate as “alumnae” is plural for more than one female graduate: and “alumni,” natch, is always the plural for a group of mixed graduates].  He goes on,  “How ’bout we discuss pet peeves.”  He is particularly perturbed by the misuses of “take” and “bring” and by how considerably “due to” has become familiar usage while  the preferred “because of” seems little used these days.

In reply to the first peeve:  the Second Edition of Fowler’s English Usage (1967, outdated a bit) takes no notice of any problem with misuses of “take” and ” bring,”  which suggests that that misuse is largely or totally American, not British.  He does take umbrage, however, with the prominence of “due to” being used in place of the well-established two-word preposition “owing to.”  But he (or a later revision by Sir Ernest Gowers) seems resigned of the triumph of usage over what had been a well-established idiom.  No mention is made of the possibility of “due to” being substituted for “because of.”

To bring American usage into clearer focus on these two matters,  I strongly recommend Robert Hartwell Fiske’s Dictionary of Disagreeable English,”  which is subtitled “A Curmudgeon’s Compendium of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar.”  Published in 2006, the book takes 357 pages to cover a wide-ranging and nearly comprehensive issues in contemporary English (American) usage.  Many of these are acronyms and what I have now come to call “approxinyms.” In other words, Fiske is “my kind of guy.”   He is essentially prescriptive in his comments and suggestions and thus to a great extent is swimming against the tide of permissiveness stirred up by the descriptivists who essentially consider it their task to “describe” the language’s eddies and tides and thus neglect established or desirable norms and rules.  Professor Fiske adds some color by quite often interleaving experiences and suggestions from others in his observations.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  The book can probably still be acquired for a very reasonable price from Daedalus Books, my preferred bookseller.



2 Responses to “Answering a Couple of Blog Readers’ Comments”

  1. Jeff Thompson Says:

    Dr. Rundus, I get the impression you forgive American language usage as an acceptable escape from the king’s english. I guess I’m a purist in a time when the use of poor english has become culturally acceptable… especially grammar. For decades now, it has beem acceptable to say “Me and my mom are going shopping,” as opposed to the correct “Mom and I are going shopping.” I suspect it’s a matter of education (or the lack of it). It might interest you to know that when I graduated from high school in 1959 with a Regents Diploma conferred by the State University of New York, my education was considered the equivalent of a first year education at Duke University. To this day, nearly fifty years later, the North Carolina public school system cannot some close to making that assertion.

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