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My new book, How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Errors and the Best Ways to Avoid Them, was published on February 5, 2013. You can order it here. The book is based largely on my twenty years experience teaching writing at the University of Delaware. I've noticed that a relatively small list of mistakes and problems accounted for the vast majority of the comments and corrections I make on my students' work. The book is an explanation of these problem spots, and a guide to getting them out of your writing. It's meant for students, teachers, and, in fact, anybody who's interested in kicking his or her writing up a notch. If you have a writing emergency right now, check out my On Writing section.
About Ben Yagoda
Ben Yagoda teaches English, journalism and writing at the University of Delaware, and is the author, coauthor or editor of nine books. He has written about language, writing and other topics for Slate.com, the New York Times Book Review and Magazine, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and many other publications. He contributes to "Lingua Franca," a Chronicle of Higher Education blog about language and writing and "Draft,"a New York Times blog about the art of writing. His personal blog is "Not One-Off Britishisms." He lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
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Not One-Off Britishisms - Over the last decade or so, an alarming number of traditionally British expressions have found their way into the American vocabulary.
Enough already with the historical present. The go-to tense for history lecturers and NPR guests has worn out its welcome and is starting to come off as a twitchy reflex, as annoying as starting sentences with Soor ending them with right?
You probably know what I mean by historical present (HP), but in case you don’t, here are some recent examples:
• “Alonzo King is arrested for assault and they swab his cheek as part of the arrest process. It pops up in a database.” (The New York Times reporter Adam Liptak, talking on NPR’s On the Media about a recent Supreme Court case)
The e-mail from my colleague at the Lingua Franca blog, Geoffrey Pullum, read, “Most things, yes. It’s a bit of a problem. I have often written pieces that then had to be just tossed in the electronic trash because he published a longer and better discussion before I was finished. And I ought to be five hours ahead of both of you, on UK time.”
He was responding to my own e-mail, which asked, simply, “Does Liberman get to EVERYTHING first?”
“Liberman” would be Mark Liberman, professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, and the co-founder, along with Lingua Franca’s own
Last week, The New Yorker published a very long article by Marc Fisher entitled “The Master.” It is a remarkable, scrupulous, and devastating account of many reprehensible actions of Robert Berman, a former English teacher at Horace Mann, a private school in New York City. The article alleges that in his career at the school, which started in the mid-1960s and ended in 1979, Berman sexually abused at least four of his male students. The parents of a fifth student, who committed suicide, have made similar allegations regarding their son. Berman, who is in his late 70s, denies the allegations.
Periodically, I experience a sinking sensation roughly verbalized as, “The person who wrote what I’m reading isn’t a writer by trade, but does what I do better than I do. Damn his eyes.” When I had such a reaction to the memoirs of Alec Guinness and Bob Dylan, and the diaries of Richard Burton, I could at least comfort myself with the fact that they are, or were, creative types.
But not so with my most recent sinking feeling. It came a couple of weeks ago, while I was reading Warren Buffett’s annual state-of-Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders.
(In his heyday, Mr. Arbuthnot, the Cliché Expert, regularly graced the pages of The New Yorker, offering his two cents on the Silver Screen, the Great White Way, the National Pastime, and other arenas where catchphrases and bromides rule the roost. Although his wingman, Frank Sullivan, met his maker in 1976, Mr. Arbuthnot has improbably reappeared from time to time, including in the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education. With the NCAA men's basketball tournament set to begin, Mr. Arbuthnot is baaa-aaack.)