It is no secret that language, music, art, and all creative forms of personal expression are the result of following and disregarding rules. If it weren’t the case, we’d still be listening to madrigals and comfortably reading and speaking Latin. So, naturally I was drawn to A World Without ‘Whom’ The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age by Emmy J. Favilla. Be it fragments, comma splices, or words invented by misspelling (i.e., sorta, wassup, or anything that includes a number), standard English has changed exponentially with the growth of the internet. This week’s New Title Tuesday recommendation is a fun way to examine the traditional and the mercurial nature of written communication.
As language evolves faster than ever before, what is the future of “correct” writing? When Favilla was tasked with creating a style guide for BuzzFeed, she opted for spelling, grammar, and punctuation guidelines that would reflect not only the site’s lighthearted tone, but also how readers actually use language IRL.
With wry cleverness and an uncanny intuition for the possibilities of internet-age expression, Favilla makes a case for breaking the rules laid out by Strunk and White: A world without “whom,” she argues, is a world with more room for writing that’s clear, timely, pleasurable, and politically aware. Featuring priceless emoji strings, sidebars, quizzes, and style debates among the most lovable word nerds in the digital media world–of which Favilla is queen–A World Without “Whom” is essential for readers and writers of virtually everything: news articles, blog posts, tweets, texts, emails, and whatever comes next . . . so basically everyone.
Favilla begins Chapter 2 of A World Without ‘Whom’ with a reader’s advisory:
“There is no such thing as correct style. And sometimes there’s no such thing as correct spelling.
If these notions are not inherently horrifying to you, congratulations! You’ve picked up the right book. … But if you prefer your grammar rules packaged neatly in a little box filled with etchings in stone rather than as wads of Silly Putty, you may be moved to tears-and possibly-violence as you attempt to get through these pages in one piece.
As a middle school English teacher, I made it a point to explain that while I was required to issue grades on the student’s mastery of specific guidelines in written communication, I told them I had no expectation that their favorite authors would adhere to these same rules.
It is common knowledge that authors from William Faulkner to Cormac McCarthy to children’s favorite The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (to name only a few), grammar and punctuation are not always required to insure a thorough transfer of information and ideas. And while APA, MLA, and the Chicago Manual of Style all state that book titles must be italicized and article titles are written within quotation marks, it is rarely the case on the Internet or in publications such as The New Yorker or The New York Times.
This is just one reason why A World Without ‘Whom’ is such a timely and fun read. Favilla not only sheds a light on specific rules that have evolved or changed, but also the conversations and negotiations that occurred behind the scenes. Favilla’s discussion on O.K., Okay, OK, and ok is worth the two-and-a-half pages alone.
If you’re a novice with all 42 ways to type laughter, definitions of 49 British swearwords, 48 worst ways to start an email, or the 41 ways to sign off of an email and the sentiment behind each one, then you’ll be wiser and entertained after picking up A World Without ‘Whom’
Happy reading! Susan C.
You might also enjoy:
Eats, Shoots, & Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss – We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.
Between You & Me – Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris – A New Yorker copy veteran presents laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing errors in language and usage, drawing on examples from classic literature and pop culture while sharing anecdotes from her work with celebrated writers