Cover image for Word court : wherein verbal virtue is rewarded, crimes against the language are punished, and poetic justice is done
Word court : wherein verbal virtue is rewarded, crimes against the language are punished, and poetic justice is done
Wallraff, Barbara.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 368 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1460 .W225 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In 1993, the Atlantic Monthly's senior editor Barbara Wallraff began answering grammar questions on America Online. Instantaneously the site became one of AOL's most popular forums, as questions, and responses to Wallraff's responses, came flooding in. This vibrant exchange became the bimonthly "Word Court" in the Atlantic Monthly, and the "Miss Manners of Grammar" was born. In Word Court, Wallraff moves beyond her column to tackle common and uncommon items, establishing rules for such issues as turns of phrase, slang, name usage, punctuation, and newly coined vocabulary. With true wit, she deliberates and decides on the right path for lovers of language, ranging from classic questions-is "a historical" or "an historical" correct?-to awkward issues-How long does someone have to be dead before we should all stop calling her "the late"? Should you use "like" or "as"-and when? The result is a warmly humorous, reassuring, and brilliantly perceptive tour of how and why we speak the waywe do.

Author Notes

Barbara Wallraff (right) is a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly, where she has worked since 1983. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Studying grammar should be good for something besides putting us to sleep. Wallraff's passion for English ensures that readers won't nod off. An editor at the Atlantic Monthly, where she writes the lively "Word Court" column, the author is a qualified judge--but never legislator--in matters of English style and usage. Her goal--promoting clearer communication through use of a common language and awareness of precedent--is achieved with as much wit and tact as earnestness and wisdom. Much of the book is given over to language inquiries, pet peeves, and advice from the author's "Word Court" correspondents. Among the matters dealt with are linguistic egalitarianism, when jargon becomes benign, and a "grammarian's dozen" of grammar issues that cause widespread confusion. Readers will enjoy the "eccentric" lexicon of commonly misused words and grapple with such issues as deciding the length of time after which we can stop referring to a dead person as "the late." This will be compared favorably with Safire, if not preferred. --Philip Herbst

Library Journal Review

Here are two new books by well-known columnists/language mavens. Safire is funny, thought-provoking, and, after 20 years of writing columns for the New York Times Magazine, an American institution. Gathering these columns and including many letters from readers, his book focuses on the way our language was used historically and how it is used now. The columns are clever and highly readable, and some of the letters from readers are just as much fun. Wallraff has been writing her witty column for The Atlantic Monthly for many years. Partly a style and usage manual that will be valuable for reference and on the corner of a writing desk, this book is also a written lecture by a great English teacher. Safire and Wallraff cover some of the same ground and sometimes differ, one notable example being the use of the article an before words that start with h such as historian. The best part of these books is, in most instances, that the "right" usage is not as important as reading about how the authors formed their opinions. Safire may have a slight edge owing to name recognition, but both books will put smiles on many a reader's face.ÄLisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Francine Prose
Introductionp. ix
Chapter 1 Who Caresp. 1
An Aside: Warningp. 14
Chapter 2 The Elements of Fashionp. 17
An Aside: House Stylep. 79
Chapter 3 A Grammarian's Dozenp. 83
An Aside: Diagramming Sentencesp. 147
Chapter 4 Say No Morep. 150
An Aside: Shelf Life (Useful Reference Books)p. 276
Chapter 5 Immaterial Questionsp. 286
Chapter 6 Wise to the Wordsp. 350
Indexp. 361