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From AJR,   June/July 2004


"The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English" by Bill Walsh
McGraw Hill
240 pages; $14.95

Book review by Carl Sessions Stepp

Carl Sessions Stepp ( began writing for his hometown paper, the Marlboro Herald-Advocate in Bennettsville, South Carolina, in 1963, after his freshman year in high school. He studied journalism at the University of South Carolina, where he edited The Gamecock.

After college, he worked for the St. Petersburg Times and the Charlotte Observer before becoming the first national editor at USA Today in 1982. In 1983, he joined the University of Maryland journalism faculty full time.

In the ensuing 30 years, he also has served as senior editor and book reviewer for AJR, writing dozens of pieces. He has been a visiting writing and editing coach for news organizations in more than 30 states.


Thank heaven for editors--cranks and hairsplitters though they may be. Bill Walsh, a Washington Post copy chief, writes with wit, insight, even passion. He takes seriously the difference between "bluejeans" and "blue jeans" and understands how dashes differ from double hyphens. But he sees the big picture as well, and he is neither hidebound nor overpermissive. You'll disagree with a lot here (he entertains the barbaric "media is"!), but love the writing (such as pithy one-graph essays on draft beer or gang-bangers). Mostly, let us salute his devotion to the underappreciated principle that language matters right down to the last dot.
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