The Penultimate Word

5 Reference Books You Should Have If You Write ANYTHING

#3 – Style Guide

One of my all-time favorite reference books for writing is the style book. Not to be confused with those fashion mags that illustrate what the stylish writer is wearing this season, a style book is a guide to proper language usage. It’s kind of a cross between a dictionary and a grammar book, but a LOT more fun (or, at least, it can be).

Grammar can be fun! These two style guides will give you a chuckle.Like a dictionary, style books give word definitions. Unlike a dictionary, style books explain the differences between such words as flaunt and flout. (No, Mr. Merriam Webster man, they are NOT synonyms!) Like a grammar book, style books help you with the mechanics of writing. Unlike a grammar book, style books refrain from using terms such as participle, antecedent, and gerund, which are known to short-circuit the brain.

There are a lot of style books out there, but to find fun, you have to be choosy.

For example, the most popular style book is The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. It’s been around since forever and most writers and editors defer to its sound advice.  It is an excellent book. But, to be quite honest, it’s … well … boring. Informative, but … meh. 

And, if horror is your genre, check out The Chicago Manual of Style. It’s sheer torture! It’s really thick with tiny print and talks about “interior discourse” and “transliterated languages.” It’s so scary, I’ve barely cracked it open since I bought it 15 years ago.

No. To find fun, you have to look at style books written by editors like Theodore M. Bernstein (The Careful Writer and Dos, Don’ts & Maybes of English Usage) and Bill Walsh (Lapsing Into a Comma). Their explanations are lighthearted and conversational. For example:

Xmas  This is an abbreviation that, despite its legitimate history, should be avoided because many Xians find it offensive.

~ Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma

Language can be fun if you know where to look.


5 Reference Books You Should Have If You Write ANYTHING

#1 Dictionary
#2 Thesaurus
#4 Dictionary of Synonyms
#5 Grammar Book


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