Before I forget,
the tenth Style Council conference (State Library of NSW, 22-23
November) has now issued its agenda. Those interested should contact
(02)9850 9800 a.s.a.p. As hinted in the previous issue of Bikwil,
the cost for late birds is higher ($275) and it’s an extra $25 for the
Friday arvo seminar on the Mac. Dict. 3rd ed.
When I was doing
some German at Sydney Uni in the late 1950s, the Professor was Ralph
Farrell. Apart from his interest in the poetry of Eduard Mörike, he had
a passion — doubtless born of frustration in marking student prose
attempts — for explaining differences between German words that
English speakers imagine are synonymous. (Germans rarely confuse them,
of course.) Who better, then, as a guide than a German expert whose
native language was English?
So for years he
worked on his Dictionary of German Synonyms, and in 1953
Cambridge University Press published it. Its main innovation is that the
words are arranged alphabetically by English concept, not German.
Needless to say, his many real-world German examples complete the
picture. For my part, I was always impressed by Farrell’s ability to
explain shades of meaning, emphasis and tone, as well as the more
obvious distinctions of informal verus literary usage.
Today I’d like
to refer you wholeheartedly to another CUP publication, The Cambridge
Australian English Style Guide (1995+), by Pam Peters. Over 40 years
separate these two language reference books, and, leaving aside their
language of focus, in at least one other aspect they are as different as
the passing of those decades might suggest. That aspect is that of their
formality: Farrell is a bit dry; Peters, as we will see below, is quite
chatty. Yet both have a persuasive, credible feel — a tribute in each
case to their flawless scholarship and gifted explanations.
need little introduction to publications of their ilk, and will be
well-acquainted with H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926+)
and similarly respected works, like Eric Partridge’s Usage and
Abusage (1947+) and Ernest Gower’s Plain Words (1948-51).
Some of you may even have been tempted to look into more recent or more
local volumes from that multitude of language watchmen I mentioned in an
earlier column (Issue 2, July 1997), such as Phillip Howard’s Weasel
Words (1978) or Nick Renton’s Elements of Style and Good
Good clean fun,
all of them (very clean), but as style guides go The Cambridge
Australian English Style Guide has achieved something really
special. As is sometimes the case, it’s really two books in one, the
two aspects being style as applied to writing (language usage) and style
in the publisher’s sense (editorial policy). Yet you are hardly aware
of it, partly by virtue of the book’s single alphabetical arrangement,
but chiefly because Pam Peters succeeds in seamlessly weaving the two
strands together by cross-references, or by introducing useful
linguistic information into articles on editorial style and vice versa.
(Have a look at the first-class entry on hyphens.)
Much of the
appeal of this reference work is its own informal style, a feature
commented on by every reviewer, because of its freshness. Pam Peters may
be an academic linguist (Macquarie Uni in Sydney) and her book may be a
whopping 800-odd pages, but you can actually sit down, open it at
virtually any page and read it for pleasure.
I like the
conversational abbreviations (e.g. it’s, there’s), plus the
frequent rhetorical questions as introductions to tricky points, e.g.:
the gerund require a possessive?
are wry quips, too:
or instalment] If you have the next repayment on your layby hanging over
you, it seems beside the point to ask whether it’s spelled with one l
pronoun me comes very close to us all, though grammarians and
other language commentators of the past have made us rather
self-conscious about it
. . .
computer grammar checkers . . . are always at their most reliable on the
most mechanical aspects of language.
I wind up, I’ll try to whet your appetite some more by pointing to a
random selection of her thorough yet easy-to-read essays:
its or it’s
though or although.
And let’s not
forget those useful articles on specific prefixes and suffixes, either
$75 in hard-cover,
$30 in soft. O.K. Out you go right now. Get it.