Released today, the blurb for Grammar for a Full life begins with an interesting question … Why settle for a normal book on grammar when you could learn new things about it and become your own best self at the same time?
To get what I require for survival and a good, full life, I must often turn the ears of others in my direction. I can’t normally afford to wait on the sidelines for unbidden champions to do my advocacy for me. Who would have incentive to? No one’s stake in my well-being is as great as my own: I’m the person who will pay most dearly if I can’t sleep again because of an all-night party next door, and so I’m the one who needs to say as much to the party’s host.
Even someone painfully shy has to take a break from anonymity long enough to get attention when she’s been laid off and her claim for unemployment compensation is wrongfully denied . . . or when she is displaying what could be the symptoms of a stroke or life-threatening disease.
Doesn’t evolution itself bear out the importance of getting oneself noticed in this world? How can we explain all babies’ thoughtless wailing except to surmise that, in our species’ long past, infants whose DNA predisposed them to endure pain and hunger in silence didn’t generally survive long enough to pass their mutant, quiet gene along to offspring of their own?
Unfortunately, though, my simply making noise—or uttering full sentences, as an adult—doesn’t always do the trick of winning others’ ears. In settings where it doesn’t, I feel as if I’m talking to the wall, and my confidence some- times deserts me, leaving me to doubt I have as much a right to speak as others present do.
Which brings me to the colon.
The biologist/essayist Lewis Thomas found colons—those two vertically arranged dots that say, “Listen up, please. Here’s what you should know”—“a lot less attractive” than semicolons. “Firstly,” he writes, “they give you the feeling of . . . having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself.”
On the other hand, Strunk and White, the renowned authors of The Elements of Style, don’t seem to have shared Thomas’s aversion. In their own book, sometimes they employ a colon to oblige us to study and absorb a model of correctness, as in
Punctuate as follows: Wednesday, August 14, 1929.
Elsewhere, they use the colon to compel us to observe what can happen when a writer disregards one of their famous rules, an example being the colon at the end of
Sentences violating Rule 7 are often ludicrous:
Those two vertically arranged dots of a colon have much the same riveting effect as the two loud clinks on a piece of glassware that announce a wedding toast—or the two decisive taps of a baton that call an orchestra to order. (Or think back to the teacher you had in elementary school who, to get your boisterous class’s attention, sometimes flicked the classroom lights off and on.)
About the Book
If you’re looking for a traditional manual of rules, this much-acclaimed, groundbreaking book by a cofounder of Harvard University’s Writing Center may not be the one for you. Grammar is about much more than rules: it’s about choices, too—since a thought can always be expressed correctly in multiple ways.
In Grammar for a Full Life: How the Ways We Shape a Sentence Can Limit or Enlarge Us, author Lawrence Weinstein reveals how our grammatical choices either stifle or boost our…
- sense of agency in life
- depth of connection to others
- and mindfulness.
Weinstein shows that certain tweaks to a person’s grammar can bring consequential changes in his or her fulfillment and well-being. In this wonderfully readable book, he describes some forty transformative moves that can be made with English punctuation and syntax. You’ll learn, for instance, why a greater use of active voice constructions builds assertive energy in us. You’ll discover how—paradoxically—cutting back on the “intensifiers” (exclamation marks and words like really, absolutely) heightens our awareness of the world.
There is not too much about personality and life that Weinstein doesn’t see benefitting from a wiser use of grammar. In a chapter titled “Bonding,” even sex comes in for some grammatical attention. Even fear of death receives its own, almost lyrical chapter near book’s end.