Patricia T. O’Conner

Woe Is I, Patricia T. O'ConnerPatricia T. O’Conner
Woe Is I 

The subtitle says it all: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. This is a book written expressly for people who break out in hives at the mention of a dangling modifier. Patricia T. O’Conner, a former editor at the New York Times Book Review, takes the gr out of grammar in the most effective, straightforward guide to English usage since Strunk and White.

Better yet, her writing is so lighthearted and witty that you’ll want to read the whole thing for sheer pleasure. Take her definition of transpire: “This is how a stuffed shirt says happen.”

O’Conner illustrates her points with myriad references to pop culture (“Harry’s broom is as good as Malfoy’s”), making them disarmingly enjoyable while giving them a foothold in your memory at the same time. A discussion of pronouns is enlivened by Ralph and Alice Kramden and their stuffed piranha. Napoleon chooses a cream-filled puff pastry for his dessert (though not his deserts). Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie put in cameos; even the Gabor sisters sashay through—in Hungarian-accented English, of course.

Tiny tombstones signal the demise of antiquated grammar “rules” that aren’t. O’Conner similarly sounds the death knell for hackneyed expressions she would prefer to see retired from the lexicon, such as Pandora’s box (“Put a lid on it”). A well-constructed index allows you to find specific information without knowing technical terms or even the parts of speech, though these are explained in a helpful glossary.

If schools haven’t yet adopted Woe Is I as a textbook, they ought to. Grammar just doesn’t get any easier to understand—or more fun to read about—than this.

Click here to read an interview with Patricia T. O’Conner.


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