Proper English ain’t easy, but 15 minutes a day is.
English and writing professor Edwin Battistella’s latest book, “Do you Make These Mistakes in English?: The Story of Sherwin Cody’s Famous Language School” investigates Cody’s mail-order courses and their influence on language.
Cody’s poster, headed with, “Do you Make These Mistakes in English?” is considered the greatest grammar advertisement of all time. People by the hundreds of thousands bought Cody’s lessons during the 1920s and 1930s. For only 15 minutes a day, any person could improve his or her speech and writing skills.
“I was interested in two things: how grammar was advertised in the popular media … and how the period of business and professional writing started,” Battistella said.
Battistella asserts that Cody was one of the founders of modern business writing, which is characterized by concise, colloquial language. Unlike the handbook-style of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” which began circulation in 1918, Cody’s language school provided exercises to engage the student directly in English.
Battistella commented on the difference between the advertisement and the course.
“The ads look fussy and teacher-y, but the course itself was very straightforward,” Battistella said.
A linguist by profession, Battistella also researched advertisement and marketing techniques of the period.
“There were a good many on good English,” Battistella said, referring to the advertising trend. Several ads are included in the book, as well as some of Cody’s lessons.
The nature of the course and the use of advertising set Cody’s school apart. American English was becoming the language of the professionals, and the language school captured that spirit. As stated by Battistella, many of those language trends still remain, particularly in the language of mass media and television.
“The language has really come in the direction of being more colloquial and relaxed,” Battistella said.
Battistella teaches linguistics and writing courses in the language, literature and philosophy department, as well as a university seminar unit.
The annual Southern Oregon Book and Author Fair will feature both Battistella and his book. The event, which draws in dozens of northwest writers, will take place on Saturday, Nov. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. admission is free.
Battistella’s book is available for sale at SOU Bookstore and will soon be available for loan at the Hannon Library.