The Book For Wordsmiths: ‘Dreyer’s English’ by Benjamin Dreyer

Benjamin Dreyer is making grammar cool. There’s a spectrum of grammar appreciators that swings from what I’ll call creative to…insistent, and Dreyer has taken the whole spectrum and said, “Here’s the rule, and something else you didn’t know, and this is why it’s funny.”

You might even compare Benjamin Dreyer’s approach to language in ‘Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style’ to Scott Schuman’s approach to fashion in the blog, The Sartorialist. Both have brought expertise and a touch of something special to their industry. What each one creates is a reflection of his artistry but also something larger than the artist himself. To put too fine a point on it, they have style.

If there was one word for the way Dreyer has written this modern guide for prose, it would be “approachable.” If there were two words I’d add “practical.” The book is a bit like a dictionary mixed with a glossary mixed with a comic strip without pictures, all sprinkled with witty phrases that take on a memoir-like quality. It’s a bowl of mixed nuts—full of nutrition, variety, and just a little salty.

It’s just the kind of thing a person might actually read if they truly needed to improve their writing. The advice he provides and rules he explains are not only useful but memorable. And if the book weren’t memorable enough, there’s now a game you can play to stay sharp.

That being said, it’s also the kind of book you’ll want to have around for reference, for the sake of remembering how many l’s are in the word skulduggery, and whether or not the word is in vogue (it is). As such, you might not find yourself reading it from first page to acknowledgements (which are thorough, btw, as is Dreyer’s wont), but every page is a treat.

In the vein of poking a little fun at the serious art of prose, this book reminds me of an amusing song commissioned for my friend who is a professional copy editor. The song was written by Trevor Strong of the Arrogant Worms, and if you like this bit of musical creativity, Trevor still writes personalized songs. You can commission your own at this link.

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you love words and how they’re used
  • If you appreciate footnotes, particularly if they’re used to convey wit
  • If you can’t remember how to spell most things, and autocorrect be damned!
  • If you find yourself correcting the grammar and spell checkers that come with word processing software