Between You & Me

Entitled Between You & Me – Confessions of a Comma Queen, is the first book published by Mary Norris, copy editor at the prestigious publication The New Yorker for more than three decades.

The book is partially a memoir book, partially a down-to-earth explanation on some of the most commonly-used mistakes in the English language. Starting out by saying “I didn’t intend to become the Comma Queen”, Mary Norris takes us on a journey inside the very bowels of The New Yorker, publication well-known for its close punctuation and considered to be one of the best edited magazines in the world. The author recalls her first days at the magazines and the way she celebrated her first major spelling mistake on a proof.

The book is not and does not pretend to be a grammar guide, but it certainly can help anyone to clear out some of the most common doubts on how to correctly spell or punctuate, as “The English language is full of words that are just waiting to be misspelled”, due to the fact that English is not a phonetic language and words are not produced by always using the same sound combinations.

Norris’s book (see the chapter on the use of apostrophe for an inside joke when you read this) analyses the origin and evolution of the American English, paying her homage to Noah Webster – the Webster in Merriam-Webster Dictionary – for his innovations in orthography and for his efforts of tracing words back to their etymology in order to know their authentic spelling.

If you want to know the different between a restrictive and nonrestrictive clause, and on how to determine whether to use “that” or “which” in this kind of relatives, this book will be of great help. The same goes for “between you and me” (or was it “between you and I”? Read the book or at least search on the Internet to prevent you or having second thoughts on this again), “whom” or “who” usage, danglers and why the road sign “Trucks enter When Flashing” was not proofread. You’ll enjoy discovering all the intricacies of the English language in a funny and spontaneous way, with examples ranging from famous novels to songs and sitcoms – The Simpsons, for instance.

In one of the chapters, Mary Norris talks about the attempt of creating a gender-neutral pronoun to fix the “Pronoun Problem” and get rid of imaginative solutions such as s/he, he-she and so on, and why is wrong to use the plural “they” when referring to “she or he”. In the chapter “Comma Comma, Comma, Comma, Chameleon” you’ll find out what the Oxford comma is and how important it is in avoiding ambiguities in “I love my parents, Ann and God”-type of phrases and in the following chapters you’ll learn the subtle difference between a dash, a semicolon an a colon. Of great use is also the chapter explaining the use of the hyphen and the one explaining the apostrophe. By the way, did you know there is an Apostrophe Protection Society? Take a look right here!

I enjoyed her book very much and I managed to get some things straight thanks to her to-the-point explanations; grammar matters which I did know the answer to, but I’ve never know the reason or facts I simply didn’t know before. The book is a not only for grammar-geeks (like me) but for anyone who thinks that writing neatly is a matter of self-respect. For a sneak-peak of the book, look here.


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