A Dictionary of Modern English Usage Paperback – May 1983
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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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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.
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?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The historic quaintness of its grammar informs me and often makes me titter while reminding me of my birthright. Read morePublished on Aug. 20 2002 by Amazon Customer
This edition being sold is the second edition published in 1965, the 3rd edition has been out for some time, since 1996.Published on July 5 2001 by Steven Craig Miller
Fowler does waht so many other people fail at. He explains words and grammar in way that you do not feel comatose. Read morePublished on April 21 2000
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