My March column for the Visual Thesaurus is something a little different: a review of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, by Benjamin Dreyer. Dreyer is managing editor and copy chief at Random House, and a witty dispenser of advice and stories. (If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be.) The book was a joy to read and great fun to review. Good news for all my stingy thrifty readers: There’s no paywall on this column, so dive right in (and share).
The author and the authored
Here’s an excerpt:
Dreyer's English is several things at once: a description and dissection of the art of copyediting, a set of tips and guidelines, and a memoir of a working life spent with some of the best writers of our era (to name a few: Elizabeth Strout, Michael Chabon, E.L. Doctorow, and, posthumously, Shirley Jackson). It’s the tips and guidelines that I’m guessing most readers will zoom in on, because who among us, no matter how experienced or widely published, doesn’t feel just a little bit uncertain about comma placement and possessive apostrophes and the correct spelling of “leprechaun”?
Benjamin Dreyer is happy to oblige. He’s firm about the series or Oxford comma (not “serial,” comma, he writes, because “for me ‘serial’ evokes ‘killer’”) — the second comma in “lettuce, turnips, and peas”: “Whatever you want to call it: Use it. I don't want to belabor the point; neither am I willing to negotiate it.” All well and good for him, because, as he tells us, the use of the series comma is the only hard-and-fast style rule applied to all Random House books. If you’re a newspaper copy editor in the United States, though, you’ll follow a different standard: Associated Press style, which frowns on series commas. (In an interview, Dreyer admitted that until a few years ago he hadn’t heard of AP style. Copyediting is a multifarious profession.)