Hale ’79 teaches writers about verbs

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Constance Hale ’79 (Photo: Simo Neri)

New book: Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing, by Constance Hale [Ganahl] ’79 (W.W. Norton)

 
The author: Hale has taught at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and UC Berkley Extension and is the author of Wired Style and Sin and Syntax — which also is the name of her blog.
 
The book: In this writing handbook, Hale aims to help readers make sentences that are as “enticing, graceful, sexy, and smooth as the tango.” The book, she writes, poses questions “that have dogged me,” including “How did verbs evolve into their central role in language?” “What does linguistics tell us about the way verbs drive a sentence?” And “What do we really need to know about verbs to write with confidence and panache?” In answering those questions, the book dips into “a little evolution, a little history, a lot of grammar, [and] a little usage.”
 

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From the first chapter: “What was the first word? Was it a command, like come? Did it name something necessary for survival, like milk or mama? Or was it something else, like Ouch!?
 
“To start to understand verbs, and how they come to play in our every sentence, let’s return to the dawn of time. Well, maybe we don’t need to go that far back, since there were no verbs when the Big Band went bang. But let’s trace 150,000 years of language evolution to see what it tells us about our first utterances.”
 
Review: “Hale offers plenty of advice for would-be writers,” wrote Kirkus. “Each chapter follows the title’s structure, dealing, in sequence, with things that vex writers, grammar myths the author wishes to discredit, the failings of ‘writers famous and infamous, hapless and clueless’ and, finally, exemplary passages.”

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