Bill Walsh •
Yes, I Could Care Less •
There are two reasons I love Bill Walsh’s style commentaries. One is that I always learn things from him. Before reading this book I believed that a concerted effort was the same as a diligent effort. Now I know better, thanks to Walsh.
The other reason is that he makes me laugh until it hurts. Walsh is the Robin Williams of copyediting.
His opening salvo probes the book’s title phrase from every possible angle: double negatives, irony, literal versus figurative usage, the laissez-faire stance (words mean whatever people want them to mean, so there), and the prescriptivist thinking of “my pickypants brethren.” Walsh being Walsh, any discussion of style may veer into references to alligators, loofahs, Khloe Kardashian, or Gilligan’s Island. “Virtually all linguists are named Geoff,” he notes in passing.
Making the case for hyphens in compound adjectives, he says, “I’m still wrestling with the porn-star conundrum. (See what I did there? Without the hyphen, you would have thought for a split second . . .).” Read on for the yearbook comma, eggcorns, misquoted movie dialogue, and confusing song lyrics (“Koo koo ka choo is Mrs. Robinson. Goo goo g’joob is I Am the Walrus”). As “an extra added bonus lagniappe,” page headers call out the language anomalies Walsh broadcast in his tweets: people misplaced from their homes, green behind the ears, statue of limitations, Niagra Falls (“Talk about your spelling boners”).
In a world where between you and I passes as correct, Walsh’s keen humor, sound instincts, and commonsense advice make me grateful for editors who could care less. The gist of his message? Write like a grown-up. Don’t be a jerk. Commit tiny acts of elegance.
A light went out of the world with Walsh’s death in 2017. He was only 55.