The Birds and Bees of Words: A Guide to the Most Common Errors in Usage, Spelling, and Grammar
By Mary Embree
Allworth Press, 2007
195 pages, $14.95
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Review by Patricia L. Fry
Have you ever pondered your choice of words and wondered if it was correct? Have you been stumped by words with similar spellings or sounds? Are you often unsure about whether to combine, hyphenate or separate words such as any one, all right, back up?
Is the word you want hurdle or hurtle? Grisly or grizzly? Gorilla or guerrilla? Do you intend to write slight or sleight; shudder or shutter; vain, vein or vane? Finally, the answers to these and hundreds of other word-related questions are answered in a compact, easy to use, complete reference guide. Mary Embree has taken the guesswork out of the English language and she’s given us The Birds and Bees of Words.
You may be interested in knowing that Mary Embree is the founder of SPAWN. She is also the author of several books, including The Author’s Toolkit (Allworth Press). She works with clients on their publishing projects and has a background in television writing. So she knows and loves words.
This book isn’t just for writers. It’s designed for anyone who works with or enjoys words and who wants to be precise in their written—and even spoken—communication. I found this book fascinating and oh, so useful. But more than that, it is entertaining. It’s not often that a grammar book begs to be read. But this one does. I especially enjoyed the section that introduces new words and phrases.
Anyone who works or plays with words is aware of our changing and growing language. As Embree says, "We’re probably the most creative people in the world when it comes to language. We love to make up words." She points out that the most recent edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition contains 10,000 new words and more than 100,000 new meanings. And she lists some of them in her book. For example, arm candy, crunk, phishing, ringtone, soul patch and even labradoodle have made it into our dictionaries.
I found the "Old Rules, New Rules" section most enlightening. Here Embree explains how to properly use common words and phrases. Is it an historical or a historical, for example? Do we write compare to or compare with? And what about the question of that versus who?
Whether you write for a living or for fun, this book is a must-have. If you want to make the best written presentation every time, all the time, you will keep The Birds and Bees of Words close by and refer to it often.
–Patricia Fry is President of SPAWN and author of The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell your Book and How to Write a Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less. Her web site is http://www.matilijapress.com/.