For Who the Bell Tolls

Some things that are supposedly grammatically correct are just wrong. As David Marsh says in his new book For Who the Bell Tolls:

If you lie down, the past tense is lay. You will note that strictly – as Bob Dylan was inviting the lady in question to lie down across his big brass bed, rather than reporting that she had done so in the past – he should have sung “Lie Lady Lie” rather than “Lay Lady Lay”. If you try singing it like that, however, it sounds Australian, which would not really have worked on an album called Nashville Skyline.

‘Lie Lady Lie’ doesn’t sound right. Photograph: Jan Persson/Redferns

For Who the Bell Tolls has a whole section on the grammar lessons that can be learned from pop music, particularly in regard to building sentences. The book  informs us about the rules that should not be forgotten, as well those that are so dated, they are beginning to smell bad. To quote the official description of the book:

This is a book that explains the grammar that people really need to know, such as the fact that an apostrophe is the difference between a company that knows its s*** and a company that knows it’s s***, or the importance of capital letters to avoid ambiguity in such sentences as “I helped my Uncle Jack off his horse.” David Marsh’s lifelong mission has been to create order out of chaos. For four decades, he has worked for newspapers, from the Sun to the Financial Times, from local weeklies that sold a few thousand copies to the Guardian, with its global readership of nine million, turning the sow’s ear of rough-and-ready reportage into a passable imitation of a silk purse. The chaos might be sloppy syntax, a disregard for grammar or a fundamental misunderstanding of what grammar is. It could be an adherence to “rules” that have no real basis and get in the way of fluent, unambiguous communication at the expense of ones that are actually useful. Clear, honest use of English has many enemies: politicians, business and marketing people, local authority and civil service jargonauts, rail companies, estate agents, academics…and some journalists. This is the book to help defeat them.

It sounds mighty fine to me. With The Guardian behind it, and with a humour akin to that found in  Eats, Shoots and Leaves  by Lynne Truss, I doubt you can go wrong.

For Who the Bell Tolls by David Marsh will be published on October 3rd 2013 by Guardian Faber Publishing.