Review of “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite,” by June Casagrande

This is a book about which my husband and I have disagreement, as usual. While I thought the author beat her horse to death, my husband enjoyed it. (He, a Parser by both trade and inclination, loves books on grammar anyway.) I will give my summary first, followed by his dissent.

Evaluation by Jill:

Casagrande employs some clever puns and jokes to castigate grammar “snobs” and demonstrate why and how using correct grammar is not so difficult (and sometimes, not so important). Unfortunately, she reminds me of someone who has been drinking too much: too often she overuses an idea or theme that she finds humorous (but nobody else does, at least not after the first time it is used). In the end, she hasn’t really said much at all. She does finally get down to business in [only] one chapter – her penultimate – in which, purporting to present an excerpt from “Satan’s Dictionary,” she delineates “words designed to torment and confuse….” But the torment is all hers, since she insists on repeatedly adding in italics, “I am Satan!” after way too many of the otherwise welcome short entries. The chapter comprises, for me, a microcosm of the whole book: the same gag is beat to death until the reader is more irritated than amused. My recommendation? Read the pun-y chapter titles and skip the book.

Evaluation by Jim:

It’s actually better than my wife asseverates. She read the book in too few sittings. This genre, if it is to be enjoyed at all, must be sipped, not gulped. Then you don’t realize how repetitive it is.

The penultimate chapter is more extensive and up-to-date than the analogous chapter in Strunk and White. In addition, the author points out several issues where The Chicago Manual of Style (my Bible, but only because of institutional loyalty) differs from the Associated Press Stylebook, or where, as we U. of Chicago alums say, the Associated Press is illiterate.

Cassagrande can be a little trying, but give her credit for coming up with the ultimate generic title for most grammar and usage books, The Author of This Book Is Your Superior in Every Way and You’re Not Smart Enough to Know He’s Talking Down to You. Replace the words “Author of This Book” with “Holder of This Diploma,” and you have decoded the unwritten content of every framed and mounted diploma you see in the offices of physicians, lawyers, and other paper-holders.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Penguin, 2006

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