IVP - Behind the Books - Good English Versus Good Titling

November 29, 2007

Good English Versus Good Titling

We're rereleasing a book by the late great Paul Little, previously published by one of our distinguished rivals in the industry. Know Who You Believe was first released posthumously, under a different title, with the help of the author's widow, Marie Little. Marie has regularly updated her husband's writing, revealing along the way her own giftedness as a communicator and an apologist for Christianity. All told, the book has carried three titles, finally landing and resting on Know Who You Believe so that it sits comfortably alongside Paul's other books Know Why You Believe and Know What You Believe. How to Give Away Your Faith doesn't fit the pattern, but it's a clever title nonetheless.

I single out Know Who You Believe because of a publisher's note we inherited from our distinguished rival, which I didn't notice till today as I completed the book's copyright page.

Writers and publishers are often coached to "write as people speak" in order to best communicate with today's readers. Thus we have deliberately titled this book Know Who You Believe instead of using the grammatically correct--but awkward--Whom. Our apologies to purists everywhere.

I'm apparently not a purist, because the fact that the Who in the title technically should be Whom didn't occur to me till I read this publisher's note. That reflects badly on my editorial skills, I'm afraid, but I remain unapologetic, because I feel strongly that writers should write, and publishers should publish, like they talk. (Or should that be "as they talk"?) Except, of course, when they shouldn't.

The more august a book's subject matter and the more formal the writer's style are, the less appropriate an informal approach to titling becomes. But a little cheekiness in grammar--for example, in our IVP Books tagline "Think Deep. Live Smart"--generally doesn't hurt anybody. I'm reminded of a joke my uncle Pete once told me, which always elicits a chuckle:

A young southern gentleman of great intellect was on the campus of an Ivy League university for the first time, and was running late for an appointment with the registrar. He stopped a passing student on the quad and asked, "Pardon me, but could ya'll tell me where the registrar's office is at?"

The student harumphed, and with great condescension replied, "Sir, at this school we don't end our sentences with a preposition."

The young southern gentleman quickly responded, "Well, all right then. Let me try again. Could ya'll tell me where the registrar's office is at, ya big jerk?"

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at November 29, 2007 10:32 AM Bookmark and Share

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