Thursday, December 14, 2006

TROUBLESOME WORDS by Bill Bryson Penguin NZ$28

On November 23 I wrote about Bill Bryson and his upcoming February NZ promotional tour being organised by Random House.

In my piece I listed all the Bryson titles ( I thought) but subsequently Penny posted a comment on my blog saying I had omitted his first book, the only one not published by Random House, and a title that she suggested was an invaluable reference for editors and others.

A little research showed that "Troublesome Words" was first published in 1984, has been revised twice, is still in print and is published by Penguin Books.

The book in fact started its life as "The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words" but in 1997 the title was shortened to the present one. The current edition was published in 2002.
(As an aside I have just discovered that I have a copy on my reference shelf of the original 1984 hard back edition published by Allen Lane, the Penguin hardback imprint of the day; it is a long while since I looked at it because I had forgotten all about it!).

It may sound like something of a boring book but believe me it is anything but that. Incredibly useful for anyone using the language in any way in their work, particularly and obviously authors,editors and journalists, and written in the entertaining style that we have come to associate with Bryson.

Here is part of his introduction to the latest edition:

"When I first put together "The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words", in 1983, I was a diligent young subeditor on The Times, and it was a fundamental part of my job to be sensitive and particular about points of usage. It was, after all, why they employed me, and I took the responsibility seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that when I realized that there were vast expanses of English usage - linguistic Serengetis - that I was not clear about at all, I wrote to a kindly editor at Penguin Books named Donald McFarlan and impetuously suggested that there was a need for a simple guide to the more confusing or problematic aspects of the language and that I was prepared to undertake it.
To my astonishment and gratification, Mr.McFarlan sent me a contract and, by way of advance, a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth. Thus armed I set out trying to understand this wonderfully disordered thing that is the English langauge".

Make no mistake, this book is a gem.

Here are a few examples of words dealt with, when they should be used, or not used etc:

disinterested,uninterested (this piece should be read by Dr.Brian Edwards following his unbelievable remarks on the subject in the New Zealand Herald recently).

And of course there are loads of individual words dealt with as well,often those that are frequently misused e.g.of fulsome he says "Fulsome is one of the most frequently misapplied words in English.The sense that is usually accorded it - of being abundant or unstinting - is almost the opposite of the word's dictionay meaning. Fulsome is related to foul and means odious or overfull, offensive, insincere. Fulsome praise, properly used, isn't a lavish tribute; it is unctuous and insincere todying".


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Bookman, I ordered a copy from my bookseller which has now arrived and it looks really useful.

Donald McFarlan said...


Donald McFarlan