The book’s about invaluable subject matter: grammar and punctuation. But it’s delivered in a far-from-the-traditionally-dry fashion.
Penned by Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen, the co-authors of a similarly entitled blog The F*cking Word of the Day, The Elements of F*cking Style book delivers style tips through accessible, sass-filled language and dirty—and therefore eminently memorable—examples.
As a writer and editor who spends a good portion of her time trying to commit grammar and punctuation rules to memory and then apply them with some authority and consistency*, this book taught me moar useful stuff than all the manuals currently lining my shelves combined. As Baker and Hansen point out, the guides we use (and continue to inflict on ourselves and others) are woefully outdated.
For example, seminal text The Elements of Style, which has sold more copies than Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code collectively, was first published in 1918. That was, they note, a time when words such as ‘gay’ had entirely different meanings from which they do today. Yet the manual hasn’t been overly updated to reflect our new era’s meanings and our less formal, more interactive means of engaging with texts.
You may not have a taste for trucker talk as I do, but Elements of F*cking Style is undeniably unforgettable. Which is precisely the point. As Baker and Hansen note, it’s easier to recite lines from Pulp Fiction than from King Lear. I’ll choose memorable over I might be offended every single time.
The book is slimline, meaning it’s both concise and less intimidating than the tome-like style guides we’re familiar with. I wish it existed when I was starting out. And I wish university courses, schools, and beyond would make it required reading, conservative, easily offended lobby groups be damned.
The Elements of F*cking Style features fantastic subject headings/areas, including ‘Commas are f*cking fun’, ‘Words Your Bound to F&ck Up’, ‘A colon is more than an organ that gets cancer’, and ‘Use strong, definite language in your writing. Make that sentence your b*tch’.
Most of the examples provided by the authors aren’t safe for publication on a family friendly blog such as this, so I’ll stick to mentioning a few of the more neutral ones. This includes the advice to get someone else to proofread your work for you as ‘even the clinically insane make sense to themselves’. Or this one:
Reading a paragraph that jumps from past to present and back again is a f*cking drain, isn’t it? As a reader it’s difficult to read a paragraph like this and not be p*ssed off at the writer. Couldn’t he or she keep it together for a few goddamned sentences?
My favourite part, though, is the end where Baker and Hansen write: ‘Holy sh*t, you made it to the end of a book about f*cking grammar.’ It’s a fair call, but after patting myself on the back, I considered that the real heroes are Baker and Hansen for making the book so easy to read I’d made it to the end before I realised.
Sure, I’m a writer and editor and this is the kind of book I should reach the end of. But have I ever read more than the specific entry I need, much less then book it its entirety, of any other grammar guide?
I’ve done that with precisely zero. Based on the grammar crimes committed daily in text messages and on social media, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the number of non-word-nerd people who’ve actually read a style manual is equally low.
‘Grammar isn’t a sexy subject,’ Baker and Hansen write in their introduction. With that, I’d wholeheartedly agree. But with Elements of F*cking Style they’ve at least made explanations of it and its complicated quirks clear and helpful. This is definitely going to be the go-to guide for me when I next need a refresher (or when people as for a recommendation for where to learn our language’s finer points). And with Christmas around the corner, this may be appearing in a few people’s stockings…
*And I’m bound to have mucked something up in this here post—I’m human, I’m tired, I don’t have someone with fresh eyes currently available to proofread my work. If you spot a typo or some punctuation or grammar ineptitude by me, please feel free to flag it in the comments below.