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Garner on Language and Writing by Bryan A.…

Garner on Language and Writing (edition 2008)

by Bryan A. Garner

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7610283,150 (4.56)6

TitleGarner on Language and Writing
AuthorBryan A. Garner
Tagswriting, philology 
CollectionsYour library, Writing, Gwin J. Kolb, LT Early Reviewers Books
ReviewThis book is a collection of Bryan A. Garner's best writing. In his introductory essay, Garner tells us about a speaking engagement where the person introducing him was told to keep the intro brief. The person was eloquently brief: "The less said about Bryan Garner, the better."

There is some truth to that statement.

As a writer, Garner may have the best writing skills of anyone in the legal profession. As a person, Garner has the need to point out the mistakes of others. One can blame Miss Phillips, his fourth-grade student teacher for that. She asked the class to name a contraction. Garner responded with "shan't." Miss Phillips told him that "shan't" wasn't a word. During recess, Garner lugged out Webster's Third New International Dictionary, and attempted to show Miss Phillips that "shan't" was a contraction for "shall not." Miss Phillips refused to look at the reference. In relating this incident, Garner wrote: "You might consider this whole book––and all my writing––a perverse, psychologically stultified attempt to get even with Miss Phillips."

The title of one of Garner's essays in this book is Finding the Right Words. I point this out because the contents of the book are primarily directed to the members of the legal profession. The title should have been Garner on Language and Legal Writing.

I slogged through over 700 pages of legal writing. But I must admit I gleaned a lesson or two from Garner. The rules of grammar he mentions here and there apply not only to the legal profession, but to all other walks of life as well.

I enjoyed reading Garner's chapters on Chronicles of Grammar, Usage and Writings for 2005, 2006 and 2007, and How I Stumbled on a Literary Treasure, specifically, Lindley Murray's copy of Johnson's Dictionary. In other chapters, he wrote moving words about his friend and mentor, the legendary Charles Alan Wright.

Garner included not-so-glowing reviews of Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Robert W. Burchfield's The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. One of Garner's book reviews really disturbed me: his review of Johnson on the English Language. The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 18. Edited by Gwin J. Kolb and Robert DeMaria Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press 2005).

In this review, Garner lambasts Yale for not including Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language in the Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson. I know of no edition of Johnson's Works, dating back to the 1700s, which contains Johnson's Dictionary. The Dictionary, as it should, stands alone, and requires no companions.

The editors of Johnson on the English Language, Robert DeMaria Jr. and Gwin J. Kolb, were two of the most prominent Johnsonian scholars in the world. But in his review, Garner minced no words in providing instances of their shoddy editing. Garner titled his review, Harmless Drudgery?

I don't know if Kolb was in poor health during the editing process, or if the editors were racing life's clock, but Gwin J. Kolb died on April 3, 2006. Less than a year after Kolb's death, Garner coldly wrote:
" What we have here is a marginally acceptable sixth draft of what should have been a ten-draft work."

Harmless drudgery? I think not. Let the man rest in peace for God's sake!

As a footnote, Johnson on the English Language received respectful reviews by the Johnsonian, O.M. Brack Jr., in the September 2006 issue of the Johnsonian News Letter and by the grammarian, Fred C. Robinson, in the Spring 2008 issue of the Sewanee Review.

As for Garner on Language and Writing, the book deserves more praise than I have given it. I shan't say the same about the author. Instead, I shall point out a glaring error of shoddy editing in his Introduction to Bouvier's Law Dictionary (p375):

"The book went through three editions during Bouvier's lifetime. After his death in 1851, his papers were mined to produce an important fourth edition, which appeared in 1852. This is a reprint of the seventh edition, published in 1857..."

Garner shouldn't throw stones.
Publication date2008
PublicationAmerican Bar Association, 2008, Hardcover, 876 pages
ISBN159031588X / 9781590315880
Number of volumes1
Number of copies1
Dimensions9.1 x 6.6 x 1.9 inches
Weight2.9 pounds
LC ClassificationKF250 .G376
Primary languageEnglish
CommentsMy second Early Reviewers Program book. A long read it was: 839 pages. See my review.
SummaryGarner on Language and Writing by Bryan A. Garner (2008)
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