More properly known as Fowler's Modern English Usage, this work, published by OUP, is a comprehensive guide to English usage, grammar, and misused words. Now in its third edition, Fowler's is a particularly good book and is worth buying, even though it is no longer edited by the late Fowler.
Additionally, if you see the first edition of Fowler's, you should buy that as well, if only for comedy value as many of the usages given in the first edition are now obsolete.

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, but just Fowler's to me

I have the third (and most recent) edition of Fowler's, edited by R.W. Burchfield and published by Oxford University Press. The tag line at the bottom of the cover claims it to be "the acknowledged authority on English usage."

My introduction to Fowler came years ago when a friend of that time acquired a 1926 first edition from the University of Missouri Library sale. Over the next year or two our group of friends spent hours reading snippets from it. This is a really, really excellent work.

The current editor cites Henry Watson Fowler's (1858-1933): scholarly seclusion, the fact that he was targetting "the half-educated Englishman of literary proclivities" -- not the Literati or foreigners, and the fact that Fowler's primary sources included the Oxford English Dictionary, but also contemporary newspapers, as contributing factors to the quirky brilliance of his work.

The second edition varied little from the first. The third was updated with a heavier hand. (For the better, in this modern reader's opinion.) One important update includes the adoption of the International Phonetic Alphabet for detailing pronunciation. Fowler's is a* historical English work. I find this aspect, as explained by Burchfield, of the third edition particularly interesting:

Anyone who has spent nearly thirty years, as I did, editing a major dictionary on historical principles is bound to prefer an historical approach to English usage to one that is limitedly descriptive. Judgements based on the distribution of competing constructions or pronunciations are intrinsically fragile and diminished in value if the constructions are not also examined historically. This third edition of MEU provides essential details of how and when new usages occurred whenever it is relevant and interesting to do so.

I got to thinking about Fowler's today when C-Dawg, bless his soul, corrected my verbiage in Santa Claus. I hauled out Fowler's and read about affect and effect because that was the simple mistake I made. The first few sentences of the entry set me straight after dictionary.com had not.

Quickly, some other great articles include: a clarification on when to use assume v. presume, an analysis of the word gay, the variant forms of hello, the history of the term officialese, and the simple domination of vacuousness by vacuity.

Get Fowler's. It'll help you node.


*Both Fowler and Burchfield would have me put an n there, but I'm a modern American and prefer not to.

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