How much can copyeditors improve a manuscript when they dig verbs out from under a pile of modifiers, spit-shine them, and give them room to breathe?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax, is a new book on verbs: what they are, how they work, and how we can make them work better. Hale aims to help us learn the “art of making sentences that are as enticing, graceful, sexy, and smooth as the tango” by increasing our dexterity with verbs.
Hale addresses the book to writers, but that shouldn’t put copyeditors off reading it. As I noted in “Writing Guides for Copyeditors” in the April-May 2011 Copyediting newsletter, we need to know as much about the writing craft as our writers do. The more we know, the better we can help our writers achieve their goals.
A well-organized book, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch allows readers to jump in wherever they want. The first four chapters cover the history of verbs. These chapters are fun if you like language history, but they aren’t mandatory for improving your verb prowess.
The book really gets going when it turns to grammar and usage. We learn about types of verbs, tenses (perfect progressives, anyone?), moods, sentence structure, and so on. Along the way, Hale gives us handy lists, side notes, and writing exercises to put the lessons to work.
Each chapter is well-organized, too. The “Vex” sections explain the problem, while the “Hex” sections help rid us of zombie rules. The “Smash” sections offer examples of bad writing, analyzing their flaws. And the “Smooch” sections offer examples of good writing, explaining what makes them good.
The book wraps up with not one but six appendixes. You’ll want to bookmark the lists of irregular verbs, phrasal verbs, and commonly misused verbs for future reference.
As with Hale’s previous book, you don’t need a PhD in linguistics to read Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch. Hale uses plain English in an entertaining way to keep the pages turning and vivid metaphors to get her point across. This book deserves a spot on your physical or digital bookshelf.