Writely or Wrongly: Non-Fiction Review

Review by Stacey O’Carroll

Author: Joanne Anderson with Illustrations by Matt Golding

Publisher: Murdoch Books

RRP: $29.99

Release Date: 3 October 2023

“This book is about playing nicely by current conventions of standard English. It contains myth-dismantling, a dash of historical context, a writing tip here and there, and a confusion-removal service.” (Joanne Anderson)

Do you mix up their and there? Or find yourself ready to apostrophe right out of the room over comma placement? Then you are in luck. Australian journalist Joanna Anderson’s nifty little book Writely or Wrongly – An Unstuffy Guide to Language Stuff will become your new writing best friend.

Writely or Wrongly packages and expands on Anderson’s popular English writing tips she has published at The Sydney Morning Herald and other publications in a quirky, helpful little book. I don’t think I have enjoyed an educational book as much as I have Writely or Wrongly. The bright orange cover and silly images of two 19th-century men with quote marks for a hat and moustache set the tone for this fun little book. Who knew learning grammar could be so funny and enjoyable? If only all grammar lessons were as fun as Anderson’s hilarious and informative book, perhaps more school kids would enjoy learning English language conventions.

“English was nothing if not a tough and dogged fighter, and it came to reassert itself as enthusiasm for French faded. It survived invasion – it adopted, adapted, mingled, spread, persisted and here we are.”

It is not often that we think about how the English language developed. Anderson unpacks her extensive research into the history of the English language and its conventions into interesting chapters alongside her tips. Some of the fascinating takeaways include learning that “five years into the Oxford [English Dictionary] project, its compilers had reached the word ant.” The history of comma placement is also intriguing and demonstrates that many writers have struggled to work out where the little mark should go. Perhaps we are still finding our groove with grammar hundreds of years later. However, thankfully, this little orange book has our back.

What also adds to the enjoyable reading experience is the illustrations by Meblourne-based cartoonist Matt Golding. In Writely or Wrongly, Golding’s illustrations are hilarious and, at times, a fantastic visual representation of the common language mistakes such as comma placement in “Let’s eat uncle Maurice”. One of my favourite illustrations was for chapter six, comparing the singular “Co Chanel” to the plural “CoCo Chanel”.

Are you not sure how to use a semi-colon, or do you need to work out exactly where your commas should go? Anderson’s Writely or Wrongly can guide you back out of grammatical purgatory. However, even Anderson states that language conventions are often disputed, and there are often other opinions. I sit on the side that a conjunction should not start a sentence, yet the appearance of such sentences seems to be growing. However, Anderson approves of the use of ‘And’ at the start of a sentence and notes that the linking word’s use “at the start of sentences going back to Anglo-Saxon times”. Who am I to argue against the Anglo-Saxons?

The cover states the book is “an unstuffy guide to language stuff,” and that is what Anderson has achieved. Writely or Wrongly has simple explanations and snippets of humour knitted throughout to make the mundane more palatable. Writing students should add a copy of Writely or Wrongly to their toolbox because their language questions will be answered quicker than an internet search.

Writely or Wrongly is a must-have for every writer and writing student. Or anyone who writes and speaks English.