Grammar Girl’s book for students is approachable, orange

Grammar was not my subject. In high school English class, we did a unit on grammar every semester. It always seemed to be the same thing to me. The work was either obvious (I could recite “Grammar Rock” with the best of them) or unnecessarily confusing (English is like that). The book we used seemed authoritative, but there just seemed to be more rules and guidelines in there than anyone could possibly know. There wasn’t, it turned out, but it seemed that way.

I might be decades behind the time in my perception of grammar textbooks, but the criteria I would use to judge are the level of detail (less is more), the level of intimidation, and the clarity of the rules listed.

My first impression of Mignon Fogarty’s new student grammar is that it’s very orange. It’s inescapably orange with a cover reminiscent of the old Chicago Manual of Style (now blue) and a matching orange inside for headings, examples and shading. Its title opts for bravado over brevity: “Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students.” It has cartoon drawings, most featuring the familiar Aardvark and Squiggly (a snail) of previous Grammar Girl books. We can give it points for lack of intimidation right away.

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Read this for free, and then feel free to use useful idioms

I strolled away from Google Plus to visit Twitter a few moments ago, and I pointed out that “for free” is criticized because “free” often works better in half the space. Usage guru Bill Walsh of the Washington Post pointed out that the real criticism is that “free” is not a noun, a more challenging argument.

The idiom forces “free” into the position of a noun, as if it is the same as “zero dollars” or “no pay.” It’s hard to reconcile, so it might always be considered nonstandard, or as Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says, “not used in writing of high solemnity.”

But the phrase, apparently only decades old, is very widely used. Blind condemnation sometimes takes an understandable statement and exchanges it for something confusing.

“I worked for free” is more clear than “I worked free” or “I worked for nothing.” “It is impossible to live for free” is not the same as “it is impossible to live free.”

If the meaning doesn’t change, “free” is the better choice. But “for free” is too established and too useful to be disallowed.

Holiday’s name is self-evident: It’s the date on which it falls

You are free to parade, grill, engage in pyrotechnics, and otherwise celebrate Independence Day, but don’t feel it necessary to call it that.

The celebration of the nation’s birthday has the distinction of being the only official holiday named for a date rather than a person or event. There is a temptation to write it as the more descriptive and proper sounding “Independence Day,” but the holiday was originally known by the date on which it falls.

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