Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries — if any – do you have in your library?Lots! Not only because my line of work has been writing and copy-editing, but also because the English language fascinates me.
I have several books on quirky aspects of the language: its common phrases, synonyms, colloquialisms, that sort of stuff. These are like the twittering strangers you meet at parties: fashionably dressed, quick with polite smiles and chit-chat. You can ask them superficial questions, but don't get in too deep.
But then I have my really good mates — I don't care what they look like or how fashionable they are, they've stuck with me and stood by me. It doesn't matter how deep and dirty the problems I throw at them are, they'll always be able to answer them.
These are my good mates:
• The most authoritative dictionary 'of Australia's English', the Macquarie. I also subscribe to it online, which is handy, because as well as showing you correct spellings, it has recordings of most words so you can hear them pronounced with that soft, warm Australian lilt! K'noath!
• The two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which is wonderful for its etymology and historical references for words, with quotes showing their use.
• Latin-English, Italian-English and French-English dictionaries of varying qualities, but good enough for a quick look-up.
• Fowler's Modern English Usage, and the Oxford Companion to the English Language. If they can't sort out your problem, you're in really weird territory.
• The brilliant Australian Commonwealth Government Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers and the incomparable Strunk & White's The Elements of Style (did you know this was the White who wrote Charlotte's Web?). I love both these to bits. They are mesmerising in their detail and scope, and both have been frequent bedside reading.