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Mastering “The Accidents of Style – How Not to Write Badly”

This classic book by Charles Harrington Elster contains 350 of the most-committed errors in writing. It starts with “every day or everyday” and strides quickly and eloquently through conundrums and confusing choices PR and news people face every day (this is correct!). A few:

  • A lot or alot
  • Can not or cannot
  • Anyway or any way
  • Their, they’re or there (This includes a sample of the Elster humor that runs through the book: “There is no there there,” wrote Gertrude Stein in a rare moment of lucidity at the end of one of her notoriously incoherent sentences.)
  • Imply or infer
  • All right or alright
  • Be careful with Very
  • Avoid the lazy mechanical use of Basically (when you see an adverb, kill it; good tight writing has no unnecessary words)
  • Misuse of less for fewer
  • Overuse of Impact (The sad thing is that this powerful word, which traditionally connotes considerable force, has lost all its forcefulness through incessant repetition. The only power impact has retained is the ability to cause a headache.)
  • Penultimate does not mean Ultimate or Final

Elster quotes several of the classic tomes, including “The Elements of Style,” “Simple and Direct,” “The Careful Writer” and the “Dictionary of Troublesome Words.” He uses turns of the phrase and creative metaphors and analogies to make his points with clarity and humor. The book is highly recommended for anyone (versus any one) interested in honing their wordsmithing skills.

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