For the book I’m writing on the usage guide as a genre I’m reading several usage guides. Now it is Simon Heffer’s turn. Strictly English, first published in 2010, I find, is a disturbing book (and I have only got through the prologue and the first chapter yet). Not because he admits in the very first sentence that the book was not his own idea but that of the publisher: this confirms an important point I will be making in my book. But because he has no idea about grammar.
How can anyone claim that it is easy for native speakers of English to learn their mother tongue because it doesn’t have gender (p. 4)? Contrary to what Heffer seems to think, not all progressives are of course gerunds (p. 14). And is the passive voice really “part of the language of evasion” (p. 12)? Whom, he writes, is “an accusative that requires preservation” (p. 18), so I can’t wait to see what more he has to say on “Bad grammar” (the title of Chapter 4).
If his publisher, Nigel Wilcockson of Random House, really suggested to Heffer that he should write this book, why didn’t they ask a linguist to check the basic facts of what Heffer decided to write about? As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, there are plenty of us around, and we would love to help turning usage guides into better books. Linguists and publishers unite!