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A writing handbook that celebrates the infinite pizzazz of verbs.Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax, zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language―from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.
From the Author:
How can a person write a whole book just on verbs? Is she crazy? If not, then why has no one else done it before her?
When I was considering writing this book, I went on a search forentertaining books on action words. The catalog at Harvard's Librarycoughed up 7,291 titles when I used "verbs" as my keyword, giving mebooks on Kru verbs, Russian verbs, Tzutujil verbs, Dakota verbs, Hebrewverbs, and Welsh verbs. There was Das Verb in German. There was Le Verbe Est un Navire in French. But there was no "The Verb Is a Boat" in English. There wasno one book to help the hapless, sate the serious, or answer all thequestions of writers like me.
But a hole in the market was not what made me want to Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch. I just had a lot to say about getting tense and being moody, aboutstatic sentences and dynamic ones, about the much-maligned passivevoice, and about all those myths out there about language generally.When I was teaching I had started noticing that I was spending more andmore time on verbs.
OK, I admit I'm kind of a geek. Deep down, I was dying to know whether experts would agree with my hunch about theprimacy of verbs. I was curious about what the very first word of thevery first speaker was. I wanted to know when babies turn from "mama" to "make me cereal!" And I wanted to bust some myths that I've seen overand over in other books on writing (like "prefer the Anglo-Saxon word"). So I gave myself a crash course in linguistics, digging into thelinguistic underpinnings of language, the tumultuous history ofAnglo-Saxon, the flawed history of grammar, and the wrong-headed ideasof many well-meaning teachers.
In addition to being a sucker for this historical stuff, I'm a fiend about literary style. I sweat overevery word in my own copy and love watching sentences jump alive when Ichange just a few words, and especially the nouns and verbs. And as aneditor, I've been telling writers for more than 20 years that they should improve theirverbs.
So out of this obsession comes Vex, Hex, Smash, and Smooch. It is the first book for nonacademics to focus exclusively on theEnglish verb--why it exists, where it works, and how it can transformthe way we write. I have tried to apply the same sense of creativemischief from Wired Style, Sin and Syntax, and sinandsyntax.com. My hope is that other writers will join me in the language sandbox, making a little mischief but,more importantly, finding a way to pack more meaning into every word.
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