Due to the tastes of my book club, I have read more non-fiction and more memoirs this year. Some haven’t worked out for me (fashion. No thank you) but this one faired much better. As is probably common for a reader, I was an English major in college and so this book, about grammar and the life of Mary Norris, The New Yorker copy editor was compelling thought it was a slow start. A slooooow start. Also, if you are an audiobook person, members of my club definitely recommend skipping that format: if it hard to sometimes read the intricacies of the English language, imagine trying to listen to someone explain the idiosyncrasies.
Once I got about 20 pages into the book, past Norris’ early life, I enjoyed a glimpse into a career that I really don’t give much thought to, despite the fact that I frequently benefit from the hard work of copywriters. I am always fascinated by a clear snapshot of someone else’s existence, and Norris does a good job of bringing us into her world.
Not only did I find this read entertaining, but it was also highly educational. Of the clever phrases of Norris’ that I liked, or the knowledge nuggets that I picked up, these are my favorites. I learned proper usage of a word I took for granted that I knew:
“He taught me that “over all” was two words as an adverb, as in “Over all, Dave gave me a good education. Closed up, “overall” was an item of clothing worn by a car mechanic.” Or, in my life experience, a guy boiling crawfish
I learned the history of a word I use with some regularity.
“There is only one documented instance of a gender-neutral pronoun springing from actual speech, and that is “yo,” which “spontaneously appeared in Baltimore city schools in the early-to-mid 2000s.” “Peep yo” means “Get a load of her-or-him.” “Yo” also has the added advantage of already belonging to the language, so it may actually have a chance. THe people of Baltimore have spoken.”
Finally, I learned about mischievous apostrophes, and how more neat history.
“The Bronx was once owned by Jonas Bronck: Bronck’s farm – the Bronx. Queens was claimed by the British in the name of Catherine of Braganza; that land was the Queen’s – Queens. RIkers island, Wards Island and Randalls Island were name for Riker, Ward, and Randall.”
If you are a reader (and likely if you are reading these words you are) and have an equal amount of reverence and frustration with the English language, you will enjoy the rabbit hole that Norris brings you down.