The King’s English – Kingsley Amis

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Genre: Non-fiction, reference
Pages: 242
Publisher: Penguin
Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Opening Line:

“I once wrote deducable instead of deducible in a book, though nobody then or since has taken me up on it.”

Goodreads Synopsis:

An indispensable companion for readers, writers, and even casual users of the language, the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Kingsley Amis’s The King’s English features a new introduction by Martin Amis.

The King’s English is Kingsley Amis’s authoritative and witty guide to the use and abuse of the English language. A scourge of illiteracy and a thorn in the side of pretension, Amis provides indispensable advice about the linguistic blunders that lie in wait for us, from danglers and four-letter words to jargon and even Welsh rarebit. If you have ever wondered whether it’s acceptable to start a sentence with ‘and’, to boldly split an infinitive, or to cross your sevens in the French style, Amis has the answer – or a trenchant opinion. By turns reflective, acerbic and provocative, The King’s English is for anyone who cares about how the English language is used.

This work of reference is laid out in the style of a dictionary, but is not necessarily to be read the same way as a dictionary. Nobody I know would read a dictionary from beginning to end, but Amis’ book can quite easily be read from the first page to the last. The author recommends that the book be read alongside other works of references, but I read most of this during bus journeys, and had no desire to interrupt my reading by looking up words and definitions.

After reading this, I am self-conscious about my own choice of words, vocabulary and grammar. I have even altered the way I write lists, as seen in the previous sentence. Before reading this book I would have written “…words, vocabulary, and grammar” but have since learnt that it isn’t incorrect to leave out that last comma.

Lovers of the English Language will love this book, and anyone who finds themselves wondering if what they are writing is correct, will benefit from giving this a read. Once you’ve read it from beginning to end, you can then return to it and look up the word or linguistic issue you require, and refresh your memory on the proper use of it.

What I love most about this book is the way it is written. Dictionaries and other simialr works of reference don’t usually have personality, but this one is witty. Some of Amis’ feelings about word usage made me laugh, but more importantly it made what he was saying easier to understand.

I found that when he explains a certain issue, like whether or not you should use ‘and’ at the beginning of a sentence, he will begin a sentence with ‘and’ in that paragraph, but not draw attention to it. He slips in subtle usages of the kind he is writing about, and if you’re paying attention you’ll notice them and begin to understand how they should be used correctly. In some cases, he will give example sentences and explain which ones are correct, or he will offer example passages, taken from newspapers. This is particularly entertaining in the section for ‘Puns’.

I’ve read this book as recommended reading for my university course (Magazine Journalism), and I quickly picked up on the amount of times Amis refers to words and terms used by journalists, or in journalism. He points out which terms should be avoided, and breaks down how certain words should be pronounced.

If anybody ever asks me which book to read in order to learn about and explore the ins and outs of the English Language then this will be the book I refer them to. It’s easy to read, but requires the reader to pay attention, and it’s entertaining and funny throughout. The book is worth reading just for the way Amis describes his feelings towards people who misuse the language.

I have probably made grammatical mistakes in this review, and I can assure you that more than once I almost wrote some words and phrases that Amis said we should stop using, and so I didn’t write them. This proves that reading the book has made me grammatically aware, but where sometimes the book gives us material that we can return to again and again, other sections do feel a bit outdated and what I would call old fashioned.

Overall, if you love words and language, then this should be on your bookshelf!

Favourite quotes:

“We are all of us held together by words; and when words go, nothing much remains.” (Martin Amis) p. xiii.

“…language is nothing but a series of signs to convey meaning.” p. 8.

“Human beings need their little lazinesses and dishonesties, and a world in which everything was understood to mean what it said, no more or less, would be intolerable.” p. 101.

Link to the book on Goodreads:

The King’s English

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