Ex Libris: Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again

Up in the sky—look! It’s a giant bird! It’s a plane! It’s GRAMMAR GIRL!

Just as Superman flies to the rescue of the hapless citizens of Metropolis, Grammar Girl comes to the aid of the needy denizens of Grammarville. Have you met Grammar Girl yet? She’s part of a superhero team of experts from the Quick and Dirty Tips website. There’s Mighty Mommy, who offers practical parenting tips; the Math Dude, who strives to make math easier; the Nutrition Diva, who teaches you how to eat well and feel fabulous; and the Get-it-Done Guy, who offers tips on how to work less and do more. There are others in this Quick and Dirty Tips league, but I have to admit that Grammar Girl is my favorite. She fights the good grammar fight in a genial and humorous manner. She’s not brooding and aloof like Batman or flashy and self-satisfied like Wonder Woman. As her website states, “Her arch enemy is the evil Grammar Maven who inspires terror in the untrained and is neither friendly nor helpful.”

I have to admit that Grammar Girl has come to my rescue on numerous occasions. As an editor and teacher of editing, I often encounter grammatical conundrums. However, whenever I’m in a perilous grammatical situation, all I have to do is turn to Grammar Girl for help. She hasn’t let me down yet.

Just as Batman is really Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman is really Diana Prince, Grammar Girl’s true identity is Mignon Fogarty. Ms Fogarty is a former magazine and technical writer and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. She has a BA in English from the University of Washington and an MS in biology from Stanford University. Her weekly podcasts strive to help editors and writers communicate better. The top 5 tips listed on the website are as follows:

  1. Affect Versus Effect
  2. Why We Have Both “Color” and “Colour”
  3. First, Second, and Third Person
  4. Who Versus Whom
  5. Lay Versus Lie

Because I’ve relied on the Grammar Girl podcasts for several years how, I decided to check out some of Ms Fogarty’s published books as well. (I know, how “old school.”)

Her first audiobook, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing, was published in 2007 and was named 1 of the top 5 audiobooks of that year by iTunes. In July 2008, Fogarty’s first paperback book, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, was published and hit the bestseller list in August 2008. Her second paperback book, The Grammar Devotional, was published in October 2009. In July 2011, Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students was released. Also in July 2011, St Martin’s Press released the first 2 books in a series of 4 books (so far) in the Grammar Girl’s 101 series: Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know and Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, which were followed by Grammar Girl’s 101 Words to Sound Smart (in November 2011) and Grammar Girl’s 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time (July 2012). It was this 101 series that caught my eye.

This first entry in the AMA Style Insider Ex Libris column deals with Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, with subsequent Ex Libris columns addressing the other 3 titles in the series. 101 Misused Words is an engaging, easy-to-use paperback book that deals with commonly confused words. The book is formatted as a glossary, with words arranged alphabetically and most entries only 1 page long. Most entries conclude with a Quick and Dirty Tip on usage. For example, for the entry on Foreword versus Forward, the Quick and Dirty Tip states, “Books contain words, and the spelling of the type of foreword you see in books ends with word.” Interspersed on the pages are literary, film, and pop culture quotations containing the words in question. For example, in the entry on Peak versus Peek versus Pique, Fogarty quotes Bruce Willis as John McClane from Die Hard 2: “Hey, well, as far as I’m concerned, progress peaked with frozen pizza.” The book is filled with these amusing quotations, making it not only a useful tool but also an enjoyable read.

There are a number of entries that support the guidelines outlined in the AMA Manual of Style and the style quizzes posted on the style manual’s website. For example, the following terms addressed by Fogarty are also addressed in the Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases section of the AMA Manual of Style: Affect versus Effect, Because Of versus Due To, Compose versus Comprise, e.g. versus i.e., Fewer versus Less, Historic versus Historical, Imply versus Infer, and Regime versus Regimen versus Regiment. In addition, a recent style quiz on the AMA Manual of Style website supports Fogarty’s entry on A versus An.

Overall, you don’t have to be a superhero to use Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again. It is an accessible, witty, useful book for anyone who needs to be rescued from those common grammar quandaries we so often encounter.—Laura King, MA, ELS

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