Here’s some more things from Bill Bryson's book that I either didn’t know or wasn’t completely clear on.
1. “Strictly speaking, paper clips and pencils are stationery.” Apparently, the term applies to all office materials, not just paper and envelopes. I actually vaguely remember this fact from long, long ago, although I wouldn’t have recalled it without Bryson’s help.
2. Split infinitives are not grammatical errors and are not routinely condemned by writing authorities. They usually occur when infinitives and adverbs are used together. Here’s an example from Bryson. “He proceeded to climb the ladder.” “To climb” is the infinitive. “He slowly climbed the ladder.” “Slowly” is the adverb. Now you put them together, “He proceeded to slowly climb the ladder.” The elements of the infinitive are split by “slowly.”
3. The belt that is worn diagonally across the chest, as seen in various westerns, is called a “Sam Browne.”
4. “To the manner born” is the correct version of the quote from Hamlet, not “To the Manor born,” which I pretty much assumed it was.
5. “Plenitude,” not “plentitude,” is the correct spelling of this word, which means abundance. I think I’ve messed that one up more than once.
6. The correct quote from Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” is: “Their’s not to reason why / Their’s but to do and die.” I’ve often heard it as “do or die” at the end, which is a completely different meaning.
7. Remember “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast?” That’s not the way the original quote went. It was “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” I could have sworn it was “beast” instead of “breast.” I know I’ve heard it said as “beast.”
Finally, here’s a quiz I put together from information in Bryson’s book. Can you tell me what is wrong with the following sentences? (The first two are exact quotes that Bryson used as examples; the others have been modified for this exercise.)
1. “Now throw in two tablespoons full of chopped parsley and cook ten minutes more.”
2. “The yacht was doing about nine knots an hour, according to Mr. Starr.”
3. “Instead of in years, their progress should have been measured in light-years.”
4. “I accused him of libel for the things he said about me behind my back.”
5. “Laying on his back, James pointed out some cloud formations that resembled faces.”