Steven Pinker 2015. The Sense of Style. The thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century. London: Allen Lane. 359 pp.
Despite the title, not a style guide, but certainly a guide to writing. Much to be learned here. Henceforth to live on my desk, along with Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Stephen Murray-Smith’s Right Words and Huddleston & Pullum’s A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar.
Haven’t read it all, more of a reference (as the author himself advises).
Not without faults. I found Chapter 4 The web, the tree, and the string totally impenetrable (a damning criticism of a book which claims to be a guide to clarity in writing). I couldn’t come to grips with the extensive use of branching tree diagrams to explain relationships between grammatical elements in sentences. Perhaps it was me; I might try again one day. I could have done with some guidance on hyphenation (“sea-level” or “sea level”? “saltwater”, “salt-water” or “salt water”?). But hyphen does not even appear in the index.
Highlights so far include the valuable advice, well and truly taken on board, not to over-use pointers: “this is what the previous paragraph was about” and “this is what the next paragraph is about” or even “this is what this paragraph is about”. Instead, just say it! Also the timely criticism of the increasingly widespread and very irritating incorrect use of apostrophes, often with ludicrous results. And his advice not to get hung up about split infinitives, lest one write nonsense such as “I’m moving to France not to get fat”. There are numerous other examples of how not to write (a rich field, admittedly) which makes for highly amusing reading. I daresay Stephen Pinker (should he read this paragraph) would (if he could be bothered) advise me not to over-do parentheses.
Chapter 6 Telling right from wrong. How to make sense of the rules of correct grammar, word choice, and punctuation is the most valuable. It is full of instructions on correct usage, examples of incorrect usage, and explanations. To be consulted regularly. If only it could be made compulsory reading for serial offenders such as sports commentators and authors or retail signs and newsletters.