Ambrose Bierce's Write It Write

Original posted by now (or soon to be) deleted "Dickens of a Blog"

While just about everyone I know talks about The Devil's Dictionary (the 1911 fake dictionary that sometimes is more accurate than any other); Bierce had something of another "Dictionary". More specifically, he had Write it Right, a 1909 list of writing mistakes, blunders and things Bierce found to be pet peeves of his. It lists hundreds of words and phrases, the way they are misused, what they should mean, where they came from, and how they piss him off.

The short book (maybe a third the size of the aforementioned "true" dictionary) is fascinating. It is, if you take Bierce as being versed to any degree, a snapshot of word meanings and uses. Many or most of the phrases he was fighting against people using ended up winning out (for instance, we now use "admission" interchangeably with "admittance", though their meanings used to differ, and "nice" used to have very little to do with how good something was), and so his preferred definition becomes a matter of historical interest. It is also interesting to stop and think about how incorrectly we use words like "furnish" (to provide furniture or fittings), "essentially" (of the essence, the very nature of something) and coat (a verb meaning to apply a coating of paint or covering).

The third reason being Bierce's wit slipping through in almost unexpected ways, such as when he tosses "authoress" aside as being a pointless word.

I have found no copy of it in print that is priced less than dollar or more per page, but luckily you can get it online at old PG (as linked above). As eBooks go, it is not terribly long, and be read in an hour or so at the most.

And, in reading it, you will remember the difference of "at" and "by" (we usually use at when we should not), how "capable" should only be used actively, how the words "try and..." are a bit screwed up and why we should hate "10 items or less" express checkouts.

I am not saying you need to agree with everything Bierce says here, and I doubt he would expect you to agree since he admits to making such mistakes in his writing, but it might be good to keep in mind that you do not, in fact, love that hamburger. [Doug's note: link is to one of my rants on a related subject]

Definitions/entries to especially note (for their cynicism): forecasted, gubernatorial, and poetry.

Most interesting thing to learn? Apparently "point blank" used to be the point of distance which a bullet would return to the level of the sights (the bullet first rising up and then falling).

Written by W Doug Bolden

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