Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Do people write badly on purpose, to bamboozle their readers with highfalutin gobbledygook? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Should we bring back the lost art of diagramming sentences? Have dictionaries abandoned their responsibility to safeguard correct usage? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care?
In this entertaining and instructive book, the bestselling cognitive scientist, linguist, and writer Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the 21st century. Rather than moaning about the decline of the language, carping over pet peeves, or recycling spurious edicts from the rulebooks of a century ago, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.
Don’t blame the Internet, he says, or the kids today; good writing has always been hard. It begins with savoring the good prose of others. It requires an act of imagination: maintaining the illusion that one is directing a reader’s gaze to something in the world. A writer must overcome the Curse of Knowledge—the difficulty we all have in imagining what it’s like not to know something we know. Skillful writers must be sensitive to the ways in which syntax converts a tangled web of ideas into a linear string of words. They must weave their prose into a coherent whole, with one sentence flowing into the next. And they must negotiate the rules of correct usage, distinguishing the rules that enhance clarity and grace from the myths and superstitions (and thus should not be afraid to boldly split their infinitives).
Filled with examples of great and gruesome modern prose, and avoiding the scolding tone and Spartan tastes of the classic manuals, Pinker shows how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right. The Sense of Style is for writers of all kinds, and for readers who are interested in letters and literature and curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best.
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