American precision

When some students were given this list—to amuse more than instruct, for they were sixth formers—one boy was surprised that it came from America (it is said to be originally the work of William Safire, a writer for the New York Times).

Dos and don’ts

  • Don’t use no double negative.
  • Make each pronoun agree with their antecedent.
  • Just between you and I, case is important too.
  • About those sentence fragments.
  • When dangling, watch your participles.
  • Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  • Join clauses well, like a conjunction should.
  • Don’t write run-on sentences, they are incorrect, they annoy.
  • Don’t use commas, which aren’t necessary.
  • Try to not split infinitives.
  • Its important to use your apostrophe’s correctly.
  • Proof-read your writing to see if you any words out.
  • Correct spelling is esential.
  • Avoid clichés like the plague.

“I didn’t know Americans could be so… precise.”

“Why not?” But even while saying this, I remembered how often I had warned leavers who were going to work in America that a very high standard of written English would be required.

Many of the students—and their elders—seem to have limited ideas about the United States, gained from television programmes, advertisers and the mass media in general. The refinements of American culture, and the ideas that underprop their way of life, are a book still unopened unless they are lucky enough to cross the Atlantic and meet some real Americans in their own country.

It is obvious to blame 20th century Anglo-American consumerism. But Oscar Wilde in an essay remarked that ‘English people are far more interested in American barbarism than they are in American civilisation.’ (The American Invasion, 1887) He himself had a different attitude, and observed the phenomena of American culture with delight.