It might seem a bit sad to rave about a book on style and grammar, but the third edition of Guardian Style is both hugely useful and entertaining. As the editors admit, The Guardian (or Grauniad as it used to be referred to by Private Eye) was once a by-word for appalling proof reading. They even quote a classic story from the paper in the 1960s that referred to the President of the United States as Mr Nion and Mr Noxon, all within one paragraph. Thankfully it’s a lot better now.
The book begins with an introduction on the main areas of English grammar and punctuation that seem to cause more and more confusion as the years roll by. After that it’s an alphabetic list of words, terms and stylistic points. There’s a wry wit throughout the whole book that livens up an otherwise dry subject, and each section starts with pithy comments and quotes from some of the award-winning journalists who work for the newspaper, that help to underline why this stuff is important.
To be fair the entire guide is available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide but having a physical book that you can balance on your knee while writing, or even dip into for curmudgeonly amusement while sitting on the loo, is much handier.
Why is it important? Well, as I’ve said before and I will keep saying, God is in the details. One spelling mistake, one grammatical error, one misuse of a word, can completely destroy the impact of a piece of writing. It’s not just a case of pernickety readers pulling people up on trivia; if your marketing has one mistake in it you can guarantee that your rival will find it and make capital out of your apparent lack of attention to detail. The English language, for all its bizarre inconsistencies in spelling and grammar, is one of the most powerful weapons in the world. It should be treated with respect, and those who are serious enough to use it precisely will stand head and shoulders above those who don’t think that correct syntax and spelling are worth bothering about.