Paul Brians - Common Errors in English Usage

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Common Errors in English Usage || Yes, you DO need this...

Oct 2, 2006 (Updated Oct 3, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Comprehensive coverage of common errors in English usage indeed.

Cons:Not all-inclusive. But that is really a 'good thing'.

The Bottom Line: Any writer wishing to be taken seriously would benefit from Common Errors in English Usage. Whether you are writing memos, product reviews, or your Great American Novel

English is a maddening tongue. Over many centuries it has grown from the language of the people of a small northern European island to the preferred language of commerce, academia, and international politics around the world.

As the British Empire expanded around the globe, the English language spread with it. Changing and evolving from within, it also incorporated influences of new cultures, physical and cultural isolation, and the desire of the young'uns to not sound like Mom and Dad.

Paul Brians' Common Errors in English Usage is one man's attempt to bring order from chaos. A professor of English at Washington State University, Brians has the expertise and day-to-day front-line experience of reading the scribblings and screed of America's 'best and brightest' college youth. (Who all attend WSU, of course.)

Common Errors is part 'fun read' and part 'reference'. Part prescriptive and part descriptive. Part 'first aid' and . . .oh is a rewarding read..!!

In alphabetical order, many of the common errors in English usage. . .geezus, I am going to be repeating the title again and again. I guess that would be good marketing...

Lets try a different way. How about some examples of the categories and individual entries..??

Commonly Confused Expressions


A person can be ignorant (not knowing some fact or idea) without being stupid (incapable of learning because of a basic mental deficiency). And those that say 'That's an ignorant idea,' when they mean 'stupid idea' are expressing their own ignorance.

Of Foreign Origin


People unfamiliar with the French-derived word "risqué ("slightly indecent") often write "risky" by mistake. Bungee-jumping is risky, but nude bungee-jumping is risqué

This humorous, slightly wacky tone runs throughout the book. Brians stresses early that his book ". . .is written in a chatty, informal tone designed to take the edge off what could otherwise be an unpleasant barrage of criticism. ...People often write to tell me that they laugh as well as groan as they make their way through what I've written." That is definitely true.

Other sections include:

Grammar, Spelling, & Style


Commonly Misspelled

Mangled Expressions

wet your appetite/whet your appetite
It is natural to think that something mouth-watering 'wets your appetite,' but actually the expression is 'whets your appetite'—sharpen your appetite, as a whetstone sharpens a knife.

Inexact Words & Phrases


I used the book to check the spelling on this one...

Problem Prepositions


ATM machine/ATM

"ATM" means "Automated Teller Machine," so if you say "ATM machine" you are really saying "Automated Teller Machine machine."

Commonly Misused Expressions

American English vs. British English

Misheard Expressions

nip it in the butt/nip it in the bud

To nip something in the bud is to stop it from flowering fully. The alternate expression is hilarious, but doesn't convey the same idea at all.

Most of the entries in the book are a sentence or three short. It is interesting that some of the longer entries are those that deal with the mechanics of writing: quotation marks, apostrophes, commas, etc.. These entries serve as tight, succinct guides for usage of these punctuation marks.

Little features really make the book. Like listing the errors/correct usage together, error first, as in the examples above. If the idea is to identify errors, helping the reader find these first gets them to the correct entry quickly.

Sparsely illustrated with 'old-style' ink prints illustrating random entries (check the Amazon link to see the larger cover pic as an example) little space is wasted.

The Bottom Line
Everyone that writes and wished to be taken seriously would benefit from Common Errors in English Usage. Whether you are writing memos to your boss, product reviews on Epinions, or your Great American Novel

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Certified 'Lean-n-mean' review.

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Other 'reading, 'riting, and arithmetic reviews' by sleeper54

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Please check out Epinions own Grammar Curmudgeon for a series of essays similar in style/content to the entries in this book.

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"Just the facts, ma'am"

Title: Common Errors in English Usage
Author: Paul Brians
Publisher: William James & Company
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 256
ISBN #:1887902899

Ages recommended: middle school-age through adult

Reference websites:
Paul Brians' 'Common Errors' website, a great on-line resource

Author's WSU website page . . .he is a cutie, ehh.??

Recommend this product? Yes

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