June Casagrande

My personal language pet peeve, the misuse of the word “literally” as a generic intensifier (“hearing it literally drives me berserk”—no, it doesn’t), didn’t make the cut in June Casagrande’s Mortal Syntax (Penguin, $14), a quick and handy guide to 101 grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage pitfalls. The author of Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies and of the syndicated column “A Word, Please” does include the usual treacherous traps—which/that, lie/lay, bring/take—and informs us, not regretfully, that the battle against “hopefully” as used to mean “it is to be hoped” is lost (though regrettably the word “hopeably” has never caught on). On the other hand, there’s some filler here (how often, really, do people ever use “milquetoast” and “hoist with his own petard,” much less misuse them?), and Casagrande’s writing style has a serious case of the cutes. She’s a perky and helpful paralegal, though, doing scutwork at the firm of Fowler, Strunk, and Wallraff and managing to make it entertaining. GAVIN BORCHERT

Tue., April 8, 7 p.m., 2008

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