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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926 (Second Edition, 1965))
There is of course more than one reason for its popularity.
But the dominant one is undoubtedly the
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
paragraph. The purpose of paragraphing
is to give the reader a rest. The writer is saying to him:
reactionary. 'Except for its technical scientific
sense, to which it would be a mercy if it were
split infinitive. The English-speaking
world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor
1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority,
and are a happy folk, to be envied by
As Sir Ernest says in the epigraph to this review, that's not a style we're used to finding in dictionaries.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the rest of us, there's apparently a
battle amongst lexicographers, of some years duration, over whether
such usage manuals should be prescriptive or descriptive. If
descriptive, they would merely describe what the masses have adopted as
common usage. If prescriptive, the author
tries to offer guidance and to influence future usage. Fowler
seems, to at least this non-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.
contact. The use of c. as a verb (get
into touch with) gave no little offence when it first appeared
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.
See also:Reference Books
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "H. W. Fowler"
-Fowler, Henry Watson (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001)
-The Lawgiver of English Usage : Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933) (The Fowler Collection)
-Hero of the Day : H. W. Fowler (Daily Objectivist)
-H. W. Fowler (Merriam-Webster's Word for the Wise, March 10, 1998)
-H.W. Fowler (bartleby.com)
-ETEXT : The King's English by H.W. Fowler (bartleby.com)
-ARCHIVES : "H. W. Fowler" (Find Articles)
-REVIEW : of The Pocket Fowler (World Wide Words, Michael Quinion)
-REVIEW : of The Warden of English: The Life of H W Fowler by Jenny McMorris (Nicholas Bagnall, booksonline)
-REVIEW : of The Warden of English (Times of London)
-REVIEW : of The Warden of English: the Life of H W Fowler by Jenny McMorris (Christopher Howse, booksonline uk)
-REVIEW : of The Warden of English: the life of H W Fowler by Jenny McMorris (Susan Elkin, Independent uk)
THE NEW FOWLER'S :