17 December 2009

The Dictionary of Disagreeable English

If you know me, you know I adore snarky books about the English language. I am obsessed with Eats, Shoots and Leaves, addicted to The Joy of Lex, and infatuated with Anguished English. My family knows all about my love for English at its best…and worse. Therefore, for Hanukkah last week, I received a copy of Robert Hartwell Fiske's The Dictionary of Disagreeable English: A Curmudgeon's Compendium of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar. Ah, be still my beating nerd heart.

We all have dictionaries, right? (If you do not, just humor me and say you do. Please.) However, as Fiske illustrates in his book, dictionaries are not what they used to be. Prominent dictionaries, including the vaunted Merriam Webster, have increasingly resorted to including nonstandard English, i.e. improper English, in their texts, all in the name of recording English as it is used, rather than how it should be used. Fiske attacks this concept of "descriptivist" as inexcusable. Although I admit that English does evolve, I am firmly in Fiske's camp - dictionaries should champion proper English, not popular English. After reading this book, you may find yourself taking up arms in Fiske's war as well.

In The Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Fiske has compiled a rogue's gallery of painfully incorrect English. If you love acerbic sarcasm, you're in for a treat. Fiske's acidic commentary is frequently laugh out loud funny, as are the truly hideous examples of murdered grammar which Fiske has culled from journalists, celebrities, and politicians. As much fun as this book is to read, The Dictionary of Disagreeable English is also a handy, informative guide to avoiding the most common grammatical pitfalls. Fiske lists frequent misspellings, misuses (my favorite being "grisly" for "grizzly"), mispronunciations, and non existent words which are used with alarming frequency. Fiske also targets so-called "idiotic" words (many which were developed in business) which he argues have no place in the language, i.e. "consequate" and "office" as a verb. Many of the mistakes are absolutely inexcusable, but he also explains many grammar rules which are not common knowledge. (I was mortified to find several mistakes that I frequently make. I will never, ever use "plus" in a non-mathematical context as long as I live. Forgive me! I knew not what I did!)

If you are a fellow grammar geek/word nerd, you will adore this book. You will laugh at Fiske's biting wit and you will cry at some of the most foul atrocities that were committed against the English language in the examples provided. The Dictionary of Disagreeable English is the perfect way to both amuse and educate yourself. *cough* It would also make an excellent last minute gift suggestion this holiday season. *cough*


Next Time: I am reading Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and loving it. PIA suggested it to me and Penguins Quack raved about it on Sparklife a few weeks ago, so I cannot wait to finish and blog about it.


  1. Yes! The Book Thief! I won't rave any more than I already have but that book is awesome. I love the narrator.

    I love grammar and etc, so I might read this. I just suck at grammar and am a total hypocrite about it.

  2. Penguins Quack, I love the narrator too! He's so funny.

    Don't worry about being a hypocrite. (I am a bit hypocritical too.) But this book will help! :)

  3. I think people are geniuses who can write about English and make it laugh-out-loud funny. I will DEFINITELY have to read this. :D Thanks, Zella!

    Oh! I've heard a lot about The Book Thief. Haven't read it, though. I'll be looking forward to that. (I have no idea what it's about.)

    Plus...er, never mind.

  4. Scott, you will love this book. :)

    I think you'll like The Book Thief too. It reminds me some of Life of Pi and Terry prachett, but it's very original.