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‘Have You Eaten Grandma? Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar and Good English’ received a good review from Steven Poole in the Guardian (October 2018). It is written by Gyles Brandreth, former Conservative MP, who is probably best known for his penchant for colourful knitwear. As well as being useful, it sounds like it’s fun to read, which is something rare – a book on the rules of grammar that makes us laugh as well.
One of his entertaining anecdotes: “I was invited to host the British Funeral Directors’ Awards and found that the main prize of the night was for ‘thinking outside the box’.” Being very posh, he inevitably mentions the Queen: her “comfort breaks” during official duties are euphemistically known as “opportunity to tidy”.
If you have ever struggled with the difference between the colon and the semicolon, he has this to say: “Look at the colon and think of it as a pair of binoculars placed vertically on the table”. “It is there to help you look ahead.”
He also thinks that anyone who uses the word “whilst” is “subliterate”. This is a bit harsh! I have always avoided using “whilst”, thinking it a bit pretentious and old-fashioned. One explanation given about usage is that “while” is used to describe time, and “whilst” is used to describe contrast. For example: “I shivered in the bathroom while I ran a bath whilst my sister stayed in her warm bed.” Generally, though, “whilst” is considered rather formal and a bit archaic, so “while” is definitely preferable.