Just as the way you talk gives indications of your origins, education, and class, so does your writing, particularly in the last two categories. This leaves people nervous about writing, fearful that they will betray some inadequacy and be held up to public scorn. They know that members of the peeververein are lurking out there, waiting to spring and accuse them of an illiteracy that is besmirching our beautiful language.
But now help is at hand. Mignon Fogarty, the indefatigable Grammar Girl, has published 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in No Time St. Martin's Griffin, 135 pages, $5.99). She will take you gently by the hand and calm your apprehensions with soothing, sensible advice.
Her entry on free gift, for example, points out that the phrase is redundant but commonplace is advertisements, adding, "Let's just say that it should be limited to the domain of advertisers because they seem to find it so effective."
She traces the belief that over cannot be used in the sense of more than to American newspaper superstition and suggests that you can use the word freely if you do not work for a publication addicted to Associated Press style. She defends gone missing against misguided objections. She points out that between "has always been used to indicate a choice or relationship between many different items or people," rather that always just two, and that none is either singular or plural, depending on context. She allows both lighted and lit as the past tense of light, depending on what you think sounds better. She discards the artificial distinction between healthy and healthful.
So she will happily free you from adherence to bogus rules you may have been taught.
She is firm that kudos is a singular, that noisome means "stinky," that unique should be limited to "one of a kind," and that bemused means "befuddled," so don't imagine that she is pulling down the pillars of the temple.
She is perhaps a little more cautious than she need be about ruffling the peevers' feathers: "Unfortunately, you can't win with hopefully. Although the arguments against using it as a sentence adverb are uncompelling ... and it commonly appears in print and everyday language, you are still quite likely to draw criticism from a large pool of objectors if you use it. Take comfort in the knowledge it probably won't be a problem for your children." If your boss is fussy about it, then you might as well submit, but otherwise you are giving the peevers more power than they merit.
Fortunately, she is clear in many entries about the appropriateness of register: "In all but the most formal situations, feel free to use It is me or It's me" rather than It is I.
It is,like Ms. Fogarty's other publications, quite a handy little book. If it should help relieve a little of your anxiety about writing and bolster your confidence in the exercise of your own language, than it will well repay your attention.