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No feelings of overworth

Friday, 22 March, 2019

Almost two decades ago, the American-British journalist and bestselling travel-writer Bill Bryson had the notion of writing a a clear, concise and entertaining guide to the problems of English usage and spelling, so he proposed the idea to “a kindly editor at Penguin Books” by the name of Donald McFarlan and the response was positive. Or as Bryson puts it in the introduction to Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, “To my astonishment and gratification, Mr. McFarlan sent me a contract and, by way of advance, a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth.” That’s finely put, the “feelings of overworth” bit.

On page 218, Bryson arrives at the letter “Y” and “year’ time” is the second entry.

“In 1865 an influential book by Stanley Jevons argued… that Britain would run out of coal in a few years’ time” (Economist). The author is to be commended for putting an apostrophe on years, but the effort was unnecessary, as pairing time with years is inescapably repetitious. “In a few years” says as much and gets there quicker.

Finely put, that.


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