Who knew a stylebook could be so much fun? For lovers of language, Lapsing Into a Comma is a sensible and very funny guide to the technicalities of writing and copy editing. Author Bill Walsh, chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post, humorously discusses the changing rules of proper print style in the information age. Is it "e-mail" or "email"? According to established grammatical rules, it should be e-mail, but in common practice, we often use email (which should be pronounced "uhmail," but we all know not to do that). Therefore, email is OK.
Walsh does not advocate tossing your AP Stylebook, but he does encourage using your head and not blindly adhering to formal rules. "A finely tuned ear is at least as important as formal grammar," he says, "and that's not something you can acquire by memorizing a stylebook." What about companies that use punctuation in their logos? Walsh cautions against confusing a logo with a name. You wouldn't use "Tech Stock Surge Boosts Yahoo!" as a headline unless you wrote for a very excitable newspaper. And then there's arbitrary capitalization. "The dot-com era has leveled a wall that Adidas and K.D. Lang and Thirtysomething had already cracked," says Walsh, "and suddenly writers and editors faced with a name are asking, "Is that capitalized?"--a question that's about as appropriate as asking a 5-year-old, 'Do you want that Coke with or without rum?'"
The first half of Lapsing Into a Comma zips along, making you think about the intricacies of grammar and editing--all while trying not to choke on laughter. The second half is Walsh's personally crafted style guide. Remember--Roommate: Two m's, unless you ate a room or mated with a roo. --Dana Van Nest