Name of two leading writers on grammar
, and so quasi-generic
ally for either of their two authoritative
books, The King's English
and A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933) and Francis George Fowler (1870-1918) were brothers, and first worked together in 1903 on a translation of Lucian of Samosata. They produced The King's English in 1906, covering a great deal of vocabulary, grammar, style, and punctuation. Among other things, they often say what should or should not be said, but their reasons are always of usage, logic, or analogy, never of blind rule-following, and they decry what they call superstitions or fetishes: the problem if any with such things as a split infinitive is that it is in some circumstances ugly, not that it is "wrong". They examined actual usage, and justified their rules by it, as modern non-prescriptive grammarians do.
They then separated their planned works while continuing to collaborate, FGF taking on the creation of The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1911) and The Pocket Oxford Dictionary (published 1924), but dying early from tuberculosis contracted in his days with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force).
So HWF was left solely responsible for their other major work, Modern English Usage, which appeared in 1926. All these works were completed before the full multi-part OED had been entirely published. Modern English Usage was revised by Sir Ernest Gowers in 1965 and again extensively in recent years by Robert Burchfield of the OED. It is no longer appropriate to call this new work "Fowler", but I fear it may be becoming a generic like Hoyle or Webster.
HWF was considerably freer in the later work, and much harsher on fetishes. It is an eminently readable work, full of sound advice, and good reasons for judgements. Where what he said in 1926 is no longer appropriate to 2001, the reasoning behind it invariably is. But I do mean the original, that is Fowler: I am not at all interested in the opinions of Burchfield.
The King's English is still in copyright, until the end of 2003, but a pirate copy exists on the Internet.