Comprehensive advice on grammar, syntax, style, and choice of words.
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
How to account for this phenomenon? Part of it is because Fowler's reputation only grew after his death as several generations of writers sang his praises and adhered to, or sometimes fussed about, his many dicta on usage questions both great and small. And as the years went by, and as the pages of his masterpiece gave way to wine stains and silverfish or the few remaining copies disappeared from libraries, he himself became a legend. Not everything he wrote is considered correct today, nor was it then. And sometimes the succinct yet magisterial little essays he wrote were followed by other little essays that were all but impenetrable, obtuse and somewhat overbearing. No matter. The good greatly outweighed the occasional misjudgment, and the education he afforded us remains.
Another part of the story is that there is something very properly English and wonderfully nostalgic about the man himself.Read more ›
Such a sentiment would, I imagine, sit well with Henry Watson Fowler who, some eighty years ago in collaboration with his younger brother Frank, wrote this famous book of English language guidance and prescription (and proscription!). Central to his purpose was the belief that the right word at the right time in its proper place and context constituted the backbone and much of the muscle and sinew of forthright and effective writing. That belief along with Fowler's celebrated passion for good writing and his intolerance of ignorance and humbug, coupled with his sometimes incomparable expression, long ago won him the undying respect and admiration of careful writers of the English language the world over.
And this has been something of a problem. Since Fowler last set pen to page some seventy-one years ago (he died in 1933), the English language has changed and grown enormously. What was correct and effective in 1926 (the year the 1st Ed. of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage was published), as well as what was ineffective, offensively brash or downright ugly has in some cases become acceptable and even felicitous. So, like it or not, Fowler had to be updated, and of course there was no shortage of lexicographers, linguists, grammarians, journalists and others looking to do the job. Furthermore, the "Great Divide" between American English and British English needed to be explained, recorded, and codified. Some of the people who have joined in this enterprise over the years have been H. L.Read more ›
This isn't the place to get started with learning to write though. For those whose primary endeavor is not writing Strunk and White's Elements of Style or The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker will offer much to you on the practice of writing. These titles will also offer you many tips on constructing a piece of writing that you won't find in Fowler.
For those interested in a thorough treatment of usage and language you can't go wrong with Fowler though.
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.