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Reviews of Says Who? by Anne Curzan

Says Who?

A Kinder, Funner Usage Guide for Everyone Who Cares About Words

by Anne Curzan

Says Who? by Anne Curzan X
Says Who? by Anne Curzan
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  • Published:
    Mar 2024, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

A kinder, funner usage guide to the ever-changing English language and a useful tool for both the grammar stickler and the more colloquial user of English, from linguist and veteran professor Anne Curzan

Our use of language naturally evolves and is a living, breathing thing that reflects who we are. Says Who? offers clear, nuanced guidance that goes beyond "right" and "wrong" to empower us to make informed language choices. Never snooty or scoldy (yes, that's a "real" word!), this book explains where the grammar rules we learned in school actually come from and reveals the forces that drive dictionary editors to label certain words as slang or unacceptable.

Linguist and veteran English professor Anne Curzan equips readers with the tools they need to adeptly manage (a split infinitive?! You betcha!) formal and informal writing and speaking. After all, we don't want to be caught wearing our linguistic pajamas to a job interview any more than we want to show up for a backyard barbecue in a verbal tux, asking, "To whom shall I pass the ketchup?" Curzan helps us use our new knowledge about the developing nature of language and grammar rules to become caretakers of language rather than gatekeepers of it. Applying entertaining examples from literature, newspapers, television, and more, Curzan welcomes usage novices and encourages the language police to lower their pens, showing us how we can care about language precision, clarity, and inclusion all at the same time.

With lively humor and humanity, Says Who? is a pragmatic and accessible key that reveals how our choices about language usage can be a powerful force for equity and personal expression. For proud grammar sticklers and self-conscious writers alike, Curzan makes nerding out about language fun.

Introduction

The wedding was at a swanky hotel in Boston, and I was early. I picked up my table card and was milling about before the ceremony in a little black dress and higher heels than I can mill about in comfortably. Unable to find anyone I knew nearby, I introduced myself to a friendly-looking couple about my age with a ten-year-old boy who was not-so-subtly trying to loosen his necktie. After exchanging pleasantries, the mother and I turned to questions about what we each did professionally. She worked as an editor, and when she learned that I study the history of the English language and that I was writing a usage guide, her face lit up. "Oh, you're my new best friend!" she exclaimed. "I have so many questions for you. We could talk for hours!"

It's a well-kept secret that being a grammar geek can occasionally be good for your social life. My new best friend went on, "Okay, let's start with impact as a verb. I can't stand that! What do you think?"

I paused, knowing that the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Yes, you read that right: Curzan uses "funner" in her book's title, and if that fact gets you ready to fire off an angry email to her publisher, maybe this isn't the book for you. Or maybe, on the other hand, it's exactly the right book to urge you—both playfully and persuasively—to take a different approach to our ever-evolving language. Curzan is a professor of English, linguistics, and education at the University of Michigan. Many of the examples she incorporates into her book come from the classroom, but not from the sort of fatalistic "kids today just don't understand" perspective that one might expect in a traditional usage manual. Instead, Curzan seems to genuinely relish not only the questions her students ask and the inconsistencies they find in "the rules" but also the ways in which younger generations are reshaping the English language, seemingly right in front of her eyes...continued

Full Review Members Only (678 words)

(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal
A delightful exploration of the quirks and controversies in the English language ... Whether you embrace your inner 'grammando' or inner 'wordie,' Says Who? is sure to satisfy anyone curious about language's ever-shifting landscape.

Booklist (starred review)
Curzan lays forth her incomparable erudition with deft lightheartedness that will appeal to wordies at all levels.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
As a guide through the labyrinth of language, Curzan provides a road map that makes for an enjoyable, informative journey.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Spirited ... Chock-full of fascinating trivia and persuasively argued, this will give grammar sticklers pause.

Author Blurb Abraham Verghese, author of The Covenant of Water
Says Who? is truly a 'kinder, funner' grammar book, a refreshing and forgiving take on rules and convention, while also being an entertaining read.

Author Blurb Ellen Jovin, author of the national bestseller Rebel with a Clause
Readers will be sighing in relief, because this kind, informative book quashes the grammar rumors that block the way to communication and art.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel

Color photo looking up the facade of the St. Regis, one-time meeting place of the Usage Panel, in New York City from Fifth Avenue Anne Curzan, author of Says Who?, has some compelling bona fides when it comes to remarking upon English grammar and usage. Not only is she a linguistics professor, she was also for many years a member of the illustrious (and somewhat mysterious) American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Usage Panel. If you, like me, own a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary in no small part because you enjoy the usage notes it includes, you will likely find Curzan's insights into the makeup and process of the Usage Panel fascinating.

The American Heritage Usage Panel was composed, most recently, of nearly 200 "scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language." When the ...

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