H. W. Fowler
The standard to which all the others are compared
It is somewhat amazing that this book, first published in 1926, is still in print. The language has changed quite a bit since then; thousands of words have been added, hundreds have gone obsolete, and hundreds more have had their meanings shaded; and of course many of Fowler's pronouncements are now merely echoes of battles long lost or won. Not only that, but two newer editions of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage have been published, the excellent second edition edited received (but underrated in my opinion) third edition, edited and revised years-old to fight the Germans in the Great War (only to faint on the parade grounds), a man who earlier gave up a teaching career because he did not feel it was his responsibility to prepare a student for the seminary. More than anything, though, the fact that this book is still in demand is a testament to the high regard and affection felt one years ago (he died in 1933), the English language has changed and grown enormously. What was correct and effective then, 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. Mencken, Jens Jespersen, Margaret Nicholson, Dwight MacDonald, Bergen and Cornelia Evans, and more recently, Bryan A. Garner and R.W. Burchfield, and many others. I think all of them, if they looked over their shoulder would see upon the wall an especially sober portrait of Fowler passing silent judgment upon their protracted labors. Certainly on their desks would be this book.So I recommend that you buy that very impressive book by Garner (Garner's Modern American Usage), especially if you are an American, or splurge for a copy of that underrated third edition edited by Burchfield, and that you consult them as well as this venerable authority. As you use the books you may compare and contrast and get a nice feel for where the language has been and where it is headed.
The classic usage guide; everyone should have one
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 --there arelots of original Oxford University Press hardbacks floating around used here on Amazon[.com] that were pulled off high school shelves years ago.
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 EditionHere 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 indulgence. It persists in such expressions as c. Sunday, c. cabaret, now not necessarily in the pejorative sense intended speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish. 1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied professional, to have struck a nice balance between the two. He certainly has pet peeves (more than a few) and quite forcefully argues for spellings and definitions which he feels ought to be either stuck to or adopted, but he is also sufficiently democratic to recognize that many of these struggles, though he might have favored a different result, had already been decided to his disfavor. Here is but one example : contact. The use of c. as a verb (get into touch with) gave no little offence when it first appeared here from America. But convenience has prevailed over prejudice, and the dictionaries now give it full recognition : after all, it is an ancient and valuable right of the English people to turn their nouns into verbs when they are so minded.Given this realistic attitude, one assumes he would have been able to gracefully handle the fact that many of his suggestions have gone unheeded.At any rate, from what the reviewers have to say about the most recent version of the Modern English Usage, Fowler's successor, Robert Burchfield, would appear to have produced a work that is not only overly descriptive, but that tends to vacillate over certain usages, as if Burchfield is unwilling to have events prove his judgments wrong in the future. There is no such waffling in the original, and it is a much better book for the firmness of its author's often hilarious opinions. This is one of those books that belongs on every desk in the English-speaking world, alongside Strunk & White and the OED, you'll refer to it often, but browse for pleasure even more frequently.GRADE : A+
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