The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century . . .
We’re all tempted to use words we’re not too familiar with. We hear a word we like and use it without really looking up what it means. We use them in meetings, e-mails, and important documents; when they’re used correctly it’s like listening to a symphony, but misuse one and it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
No matter how talented you are or what you’ve accomplished, using words incorrectly can change the way people think about you and forever cast you in a negative light. The bad part about it? You don’t even know you’ve misused the word until somebody tells you, but the majority of the time you have to realize it yourself and by the time that happens you’ve used the word a thousand times.
When I write, I hire an editor to review my articles before I post them online or at least get an English major friend of mine to look it over. I still do this even though I have a graduate degree in English. It’s bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder and something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000!
Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more “correct” or sophisticated which catch us by surprise when they don’t really mean what we think they do. These words have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.
I always keep a dictionary and a thesaurus handy even though I usually look up words on the internet for it’s correct usage. I always keep an MLA Style Manual, an Associated Style Manual, and a Chicago Manual of Style. I love Strunk and White’s classic “The Elements of Style,” but one based on linguistics and updated for the 21st century. I’ve just recently started using “The Sense of Style,” by Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker.
I’ve decided to take from Pinker’s book what he believes to be the 58 most commonly…