Thoughts on David Marsh’s For Who the Bell Tolls

For Who the Bell Tolls by David Marsh, 2013

Stan Carey covered the important ground in his book review posted on his blog Sentence First.

I’ve really enjoyed reading the book so far. At the moment I’m stuck in a rather long list of tricky words and grammar pitfalls. Reading this on my Kindle means that I’ll never really use this as a work of reference, though. So I hope that some of the items will stick in my memory.

What struck my eye in the list was the following entry:

interpreter: Works with the spoken word; often confused with translator, who works with the written word.

How apt. This gets mixed so often and so publicly that it can be quite depressing. The latest example that comes to mind is an NBC article on Banafsheh Keynoush, an interpreter to the last four Iranian presidents. Throughout the article she is repeatedly referred to as a translator. What’s more, she refers to herself as a translator (I’m assuming she gave the interview in English because she interprets into English). (Edit 1/31/2015: The link to the article has expired. Sorry about that.)

Here’s to wishing that the editorial boards of many other publications read David Marsh’s book and heed his advice.

PS As an American, David Marsh’s very British examples and humor make his explanations that much more enjoyable. He includes examples of American versus British usage in his explanations which is at times enlightening. However, one passage has me frankly baffled:

In the US, advise is both noun and verb. The same principle applies to the British English device and devise (devise for both in the US), licence and license (license for both in the US), and prophecy and prophesy (prophesy for both in the US).

I keep going back to this to make sure I’m reading it right. I’m pretty sure Americans distinguish between the noun device and the verb devise. Should I be writing hand-held devise as an American? Maybe that isn’t such sound advise.

There are 3 comments on this post

    1. Else Gellinek

      Is that what you read? I was actually trying to express how much, being a speaker of American English myself, I enjoyed his very British examples.

      It seems that we both can agree that my post would never have made it past the Guardian editing team 🙂

  1. Alan Tolerton

    Of those 4 examples, he gets only “license” correct. The others are just awfully common mistakes. You’ve gotta wonder where he gets his basic data! (I am alert to such things, being a BE speaker living in USA.)


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