REVIEW: Have You Eaten Grandma? by Gyles Brandreth
For anyone who wants to make fewer (not less) grammar mistakes, a lively, effective, and witty guide to all the ins and outs of the English language, reminiscent of the New York Times bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
Our language is changing, literary levels are declining, and our grasp of grammar is at a crisis point. From commas to colons, apostrophes to adverbs, there are countless ways we can make mistakes when writing or speaking. But do not despair! Great Britain’s most popular grammar guru has created the ultimate modern manual for English speakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
In this brilliantly funny and accessible guide to proper punctuation and so much more, Gyles Brandreth explores the linguistic horrors of our times, tells us what we’ve been doing wrong and shows us how, in the future, we can get it right every time. Covering everything from dangling participles to transitive verbs, from age-old conundrums like “lay” vs. “lie,” to the confounding influences of social media on our everyday language, Have You Eaten Grandma? is an endlessly useful and entertaining resource for all.
Dear Mr. Brandreth,
I adore reading books about grammar and language but I will freely admit that despite having just finished it, I will probably commit some linguistic blunder while discussing it. Oh well, here goes anyway.
When I went to record the book in my reading journal, I wrote “fun, witty book about the English language and how it’s changing – not stuffy.” Given the title, how could it be pretentious? Yet that title also gives a hint of what is to come including “the life-saving importance of correct punctuation, grammar, and good English.” Language and what we do with it matters. Written language needs clarity to an even greater extent. The book gently takes the reader by the hand and steadies us through the journey towards expressing what we really mean and past pitfalls that bedevil so many of us.
Language is always in flux; sometimes this is a good thing. At other times, we’re served up horrors due either to punctuation, spelling, or grammar. Or the lack of these viz. “Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.” “We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids!” “Toilets only for disabled pregnant children.” ” Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”
While commas and apostrophes are the obvious punctuation marks first thought of when people say “Yeah, I need some help,” let us not forget the humble hyphen. The jury might still be out on hyphenating some compound words but we can all agree that this newspaper headline needed one: “STUDENTS GET FIRST HAND JOB EXPERIENCE.” It’s also nice to know that even language experts don’t always have the answer for why things are as they are. Yes, we do sometimes “just have to take what we’re given and live with it.”
Along with a refresher on things I already knew (but still obviously need explained again), there are nice little tidbits of knowledge scattered about. I had no idea 1960s British typewriters had no exclamation mark (point for us USIANs) key. I loathe what Twitter shorthand and spelling errors are unleashing on us. For instance – “i smell like mens colon.” “I think my gramma got die of beaties.” “I rather b skinny den have sellulight I tell u dat much #justsayin” On the other hand and in defense of what we sometimes read, there is the dreaded auto-correct which is not always a friend. The mnemonics are interesting but in the day of spellcheck, I have doubts that many will take the time to learn them anymore.
I agree with some of your annoying words list (awesomesauce, totes, pushback) and will add my own: “super” when used for “very.” It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. Your feelings about the much hated “Your call is important to us” had me in stitches. The chapter on euphemisms serves up some oldies but goodies along with one I’d love to see authors of historical books use – “Give someone a green gown.”
As you say, “making it clear” – that’s what it’s all about.
“Language is power. Words do make a difference. They can reinforce stereotypes, cause offense, undermine, hurt, and humiliate. You don’t have to wrap everything you say in cotton wool, but you should choose your words carefully. Good communication is about courtesy and kindness as well as clarity and getting your message across.”
I will take your advice to heart and continue to increase my word power by seeking new and interesting ones to add to my collection. Just reading this book added quite a few including kickie-wickie, pingle, and one I’m afraid we in the US will be experiencing as politicians gear up for the next election cycle – tergiversate. Dictionaries and old Reader’s Digests, here I come. B+