Backing off for a moment
It might seem like I'm slagging off prose. I'm not. Beautiful prose is a wonderful thing. It is a necessary thing.
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug,"
as Mark Twain said.
Words are your tools. You must make them your friends. If you aren't the sort of person who can regularly ace the It Pays to Increase Your Word Power
feature in Readers Digest every month -- become that sort of person.
At the very minimum I expect you to have the following books in your office:
Miriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
The Chicago Manual of Style
Roget's International Thesaurus
The Elements of Style
There are other useful references, which I may mention later. These you must have, and must use.
The words themselves, the nouns and verbs ... they're the polish with 000 steel wool. They're the hand-rubbed oil stain. They're the carnuba wax buffed with chamois. But if you don't have a solid piece of woodwork to start with, all the finish in the world won't make a piece of furniture.
Yes, I'll be talking about prose, including some of my idiosyncratic pet peeves. There, their,
are three different words, with three different meanings. Similarly, two, too,
mean different things, as do farther
. You are expected to be expert.
If what exactly I mean by "noun" and "verb" (not to mention "adverb," "adjective," and "conjunction") is obscure to you ... go right now to your local bookstore and pick up some of the test-preparation study books for high school students, and work through the sections on English. It's okay, no shame, but you've got to be good
If you can put together two consecutive pages of grammatical English with standard spelling, you'll be ahead of 90% of the people in the slush pile.
Another note: Yes, William Strunk did
self-publish the first edition of his Elements of Style
, as the PoD and vanity presses are fond of pointing out. You have to remember that it happened in the days before the invention of the Xerox machine -- Strunk printed up copies of his class notes to hand out to his students, so that they wouldn't have to copy it all down by hand as he lectured.