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When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It


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About the Author

BEN YAGODA teaches English at the University of Delaware, and is the author of four books, including The Sound on the Page and About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. He has contributed to, the New York Times Book Review, the American Scholar, Rolling Stone and Esquire, and writes an occasional column on language for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.


Questioning traditional grammatical categories, Yagoda (English, Univ. of Delaware) explores strengths, weaknesses, and connections between parts of speech in this work for writers and language lovers. Each English-language part of speech receives its own chapter. Sometimes, Yagoda acts as writing coach, as when he discusses newspapers' policies regarding use of the words the and a or when he considers the location of adverbs in sentences. Similarly, he summarizes how adjectives can be poorly used when explaining that "establishing that someone kicked an opponent who was down, stole seventeen dollars...precludes the need to call him terrible, awful, horrible, horrid, deplorable, despicable or vile." Drawing on quotes from politicians, lyrics, movies, classic literature, and linguistic works, Yagoda also examines word history and differences between spoken and written language. Filled with humor and written in a casual tone, his unique work is recommended for larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/06.]-Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Yagoda (The Sound on the Page) isn't trying to reinvent the style guide, just offering his personal tour of some of the English language's idiosyncrasies. Using the parts of speech as signposts, he charts an amiable path between those critics for whom any alterations to established grammar are hateful and those who believe whatever people use in speech is by default acceptable. Where many writing instructors rail against the use of adverbs, for example, he points out that they can be quite useful for conveying subtle relationships ordinary verbs can't describe. Some of this territory is familiar-Yagoda even boils down the debate over "hopefully" to outline form-but every chapter has gems tucked inside, like the section in pronouns on the "third-person athletic," the voice celebrity ballplayers use to refer to themselves in interviews. And he's definitely in love with his one-liners, such as the quip that the only acceptable use of "really" is "in imitations of Katharine Hepburn, Ed Sullivan and Elmer Fudd." Readers won't toss their copies of Strunk & White off the shelf, but Yagoda's witty grammar will rest comfortably next to the masters. (Feb. 13) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Advance praise for If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It

"Absolutely required--and utterly fun--reading for anyone who cares about the work-in-progress that is the English language. Marvelous in every way." --Christopher Buckley "All hail to Ben Yagoda! Not only has he publicly rescued mother from the ubiquitous debasement of mom, and consigned shall to the schoolmarm's dead-rules inferno, but--ebulliently--he dresses Fowler, his eminent usage-predecessor, in relaxed American shoes. Yagoda's invigorating interrogation of our language will excite every syntax-obsessed reader and writer. (And there are more of us than you might think.)"
--Cynthia Ozick

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