Misadventures in the English Language by Caroline Taggart

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Misadventures in the English Language by Caroline Taggart

Category: Reference
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JY Saville
Reviewed by JY Saville
Summary: A breezy, readable book for the most part. Perhaps more suited as a refresher of things you used to know than as a place to learn new skills.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Michael O'Mara
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1782436478

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Misadventures in the English Language styles itself as an examination of the confusing bits of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation, with some indication of which rules matter and which can be broken without dire consequences, though it's actually broader than this description makes it sound. It has chapters on: words and phrases borrowed from other languages, new usage and changes of meaning, common grammar and punctuation pitfalls, confusing spellings, dreadful jargon, and using unnecessary words that don't add anything to your sentence except length.

I enjoy learning about the history behind words, phrases and punctuation marks, and I'm aware that I have a few holes in my knowledge of punctuation and grammar so I was looking forward to this book being both interesting and useful. Unfortunately, I think the broad intent may have been the book's flaw, as it wasn't clear who it was aimed at. The sections on the history or development of English were entertaining and enlightening, but then there are parts that read more like a summarised textbook, which might not be comprehensive enough if you really are looking to learn something new.

Caroline Taggart's chatty introduction made me more willing to accept the difficult business of the glossary than I otherwise would have been. I mostly stumble through grammar by going with what sounds right (mainly picked up by reading widely), and at school I don't remember getting much beyond a noun being a naming word, a verb being a doing word, and an adjective describing something. A page containing words like preposition, determiner, and clause did cause a touch of apprehension. However, the first chapter was an interesting and easy to read overview of changing meanings and new expressive words like omnishambles, and I soon forgot I'd had to do any work.

The chapter on grammar, however, took me back into a jungle of confusing terminology. There was a suggestion to return to p13-14 if you're not sure what a direct object is, and I'm not sure so I did return, to find three example sentences in which all the objects are said to be direct, but nothing to say what makes them direct or what a sentence might look like in which they weren't. I'm not sure I learnt anything except perhaps that my ignorance of formal grammar is deeper than I thought. Elsewhere in the book, for odd spellings and punctuation for instance, I was happy to pick up a handy way of remembering a rule I'd previously seen as arbitrary, or remind myself of a distinction I'd forgotten.

On the whole I think this is best approached as an interesting book about language, with the possible bonus of being a refresher on elements you may have forgotten. I found the things I struggle with weren't dealt with in enough depth to help, and if you already know the rules, particularly if you're pedantic, you might find the casual attitude to some of the 'nit-picking' irritating.

For more on peculiar spellings and how to remember them, you could try Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling by David Crystal, and for a simpler look at punctuation there's always a children's book like Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! by Lynne Truss.

Buy Misadventures in the English Language by Caroline Taggart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Misadventures in the English Language by Caroline Taggart at Amazon.co.uk.

Buy Misadventures in the English Language by Caroline Taggart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Misadventures in the English Language by Caroline Taggart at Amazon.com.


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