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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage [Paperback]

H. W. Fowler , Henry W. Fowler , Ernest Gowers
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Fowler's Modern English Usage: Oxford Language Classics series Fowler's Modern English Usage: Oxford Language Classics series 4.5 out of 5 stars (2)
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Book Description

1983 The Oxford Library of English Usage ; V. 2 (Book 3)
Comprehensive advice on grammar, syntax, style, and choice of words.

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A guide to precise phrases, grammar, and pronunciation can be key; it can even be admired. But beloved? Yet from its first appearance in 1926, Fowler's was just that. Henry Watson Fowler initially aimed his Dictionary of Modern English Usage, as he wrote to his publishers in 1911, at "the half-educated Englishman of literary proclivities who wants to know Can I say so-&-so?" He was of course obsessed with, in Swift's phrase, "proper words in their proper places." But having been a schoolmaster, Fowler knew that liberal doses of style, wit, and caprice would keep his manual off the shelf and in writers' hands. He also felt that description must accompany prescription, and that advocating pedantic "superstitions" and "fetishes" would be to no one's advantage. Adepts will have their favorite inconsequential entries--from burgle to brood, truffle to turgid. Would that we could quote them all, but we can't resist a couple. Here Fowler lays into dedicated:
He is that rara avis a dedicated boxer. The sporting correspondent who wrote this evidently does not see why the literary critics should have a monopoly of this favourite word of theirs, though he does not seem to think that it will be greatly needed in his branch of the business.
Needless to say, later on rara avis is also smacked upside the head! And practically fares no better: "It is unfortunate that practically should have escaped from its true meaning into something like its opposite," Fowler begins. But our linguistic hero also knew full well when to put a crimp on comedy. Some phrases and proper uses, it's clear, would always be worth fighting for, and the guide thus ranges from brief definitions to involved articles. Archaisms, for instance, he considered safe only in the hands of the experienced, and meaningless words, especially those used by the young, "are perhaps more suitable for the psychologist than for the philologist." Well, youth might respond, "Whatever!"--though only after examining the keen differences between that phrase and what ever. (One can only imagine what Fowler would have made of our late-20th-century abuses of like.) This is where Robert Burchfield's 1996 third edition comes in. Yes, Fowler lost the fight for one r in guerrilla and didn't fare too well when it came to quashing such vogue words as smear and seminal. But he knew--and makes us ever aware--that language is a living, breathing (and occasionally suffocating) thing, and we hope that he would have welcomed any and all revisions. Fowlerphiles will want to keep their first (if they're very lucky) or second editions at hand, but should look to Burchfield for new entries on such phrases as gay, iron curtain, and inchoate--not to mention girl. --Kerry Fried

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5.0 out of 5 stars The classic usage guide; everyone should have one Sept. 9 2002
Together with his and his brother's "The King's English," Fowler's "Modern English Usage" is the classic guide to writing good English. Those that say that Fowler is overly prescriptive are wrong; on the contrary, Fowler thinks less ill of split infinitives and prepositions-at-end than many more "modern" usage know-it-alls. I think that Fowler approaches writing in the English language as an engineer approaches designing a machine. The idea is "get the job done"---"how can I say this in the fewest words with the least ambiguity?" And that is what he teaches. Split infinitives aren't bad because they don't introduce ambiguity. The fused participle, on the other hand, introduces ambiguity, and should be avoided. "Good" Fowler English isn't just "proper" English, but English that is unambiguous and to the point.
Everyone that writes should have a copy of Fowler. But please, don't buy the "Third Edition," which isn't really Fowler. The second edition (edited by Gowers) is OK, but the first is really the nonpareil. The first edition is still in print (Wordsworth or a special Oxford reprint?) or you can buy it used---there are
lots of original Oxford University Press hardbacks floating around used here on Amazon[.com] that were pulled off high school shelves years ago.
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5.0 out of 5 stars own it July 22 2001
There is of course more than one reason for its popularity. But the dominant one is undoubtedly the idiosyncrasy of the author, which is revealed to an extent unusual in a 'dictionary'. -Sir Ernest Gowers, Preface to the Revised Edition
Here in the States we have our beloved Strunk & White to give us guidance on matters grammatical, and it remains an indispensable reference work, even in its original form. The British counterpart to Elements of Style is this unique work by H.W. Fowler, minimally revised and edited by Sir Ernest Gowers. It too remains useful, though many entries have grown dated, but it is so idiosyncratic and amusing that even the most obsolete of Fowler's rulings and admonitions are worth reading if for nothing more than simple amusement. Here are just a few of the more enjoyable ones that I found :
continental. 'Your mother,' said Mr. Brownlow to Mr. Monks in Oliver Twist, 'wholly given up to continental frivolities, had utterly forgotten the young husband ten years her junior.' This use of continental reflects the common belief in England that the Continent, especially France, offers unwonted opportunities for gaiety and self-indulgence. It persists in such expressions as c. Sunday, c. cabaret, now not necessarily in the pejorative sense intended by Mr. Brownlow but suggesting either envy or reprobation, or a mixture of both, according to the taste of the user. Such feelings toward what we suppose to be the continental way of life have no doubt changed with the mellowing of Victorian prudery, but are unlikely to disappear so long as we are not allowed to gamble where we please or to drink whenever we are so disposed.
paragraph. The purpose of paragraphing is to give the reader a rest. The writer is saying to him: 'Have you got that?
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By A Customer
In The Writer's Art, Mr. Kilpatrick has described this work as a necessary tool for any writer, serious or not. He states that the book, "lives on a shelf about three feet from my typewriter. The work is valuable not merely for the purpose of reference, but also for a quality rarely found in books that deal with grammer, syntax, and symantics: It is great good fun to read." I am buying the book on the strength of Mr. Kilpatricks recommendation, as I admire Mr. Kilpatrick's writing ability, even if his political philosophy is not always my cup of tea. Yes, Mr. Kilpatrick, I used that cliche on purpose, just for your benefit.
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Fowler's should be on the desk of everyone who writes. Not only are his explanations clear, many are so witty that the reader laughs out loud. This important book should be more than a resource. It should be picked up, flipped through, and read at random for the sheer enjoyment of Fowler's infectious love and knowledge of language. There is always something new to be learned, and you may come under the spell of the beauty and precision of the English language when used deftly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book changed my life. July 9 1999
By A Customer
Once I saw this book as a young teenager, I never worried about grammar snobs again. I had great confidence in writing. Along with Strunk and White, it exposes the arbitrariness of grammar and the phoniness of many grammar snobs. My children are superb writers and 2nd generation Fowler beneficiaries.
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