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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

by H. W. Fowler

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,057234,497 (4.14)38
No book had more influence on twentieth-century attitudes to the English language in Britain than Henry Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It rapidly became the standard work of reference for the correct use of English in terms of choice of words, grammar, and style. Much loved for his firm opinions, passion, and dry humour, Fowler has stood the test of time and is still considered the best arbiter of good practice. Now one of today's leading experts on thelanguage, David Crystal, has reassessed Fowler's contribution in this fascinating new edition. Crystal goes beyond the popular my… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

English (21)  Italian (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
I have to agree with the more erudite reviews already posted: in some ways, this is a 5-star work. In others, it's a write-off.

As a writer myself, I find Fowler to be one of the pre-eminent reference texts. He covers a vast range of words and phrases - from the regularly misused to archaisms which, when they are used, need clarifying - with a wit that often borders on scathing. It's great fun to be searching for a simple definition or clarification, and end up having a good giggle at the same time. Because the book was written in the 'glory days' of the early 20th century, Fowler takes time to explain his stance, without resorting to dumbing down the information.

On the other hand, as other commentators have noted, one of the joys of the English language is its evolution. I believe that the history of a word is vitally important, that being more than simply competent in your language is a great gift, and thus am I against these dimwitted arguments to simplify our spelling, or limit our general vocabulary in academic institutions or the media. However, language is in a state of constant flux, and to argue that there is only ever one correct usage of a word or term is ridiculous. Something that was correct in 1926 for Fowler may be ludicrous for us in 2012, and may have been equally so for Elizabeth I, or Samuel Johnson, or Jane Austen. Beyond this, Fowler seems to be confused about the distinction between formal and informal language use. Is idomatic English to be held to the same standards as formal documents? Isn't one of the joys of being proficient in your language, that you can stretch the boundaries of meaning and definition - both in a parodic, conversational manner, and in a serious way? As with anyone who grows passionate about a subject that is steeped in tradition, I always feel torn in these situations: to revere Fowler for his wit, intelligence, and passion? Or bemoan him for being a pedant?

The question lingers... ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 21, 2024 |
A bit dated. but hard to find something better. ( )
  lcl999 | Feb 11, 2024 |
Unlike most books I review, I can't claim to have read all of this book. A solid foundation for understanding the rules of English Grammar, but tough sledding in places. Not something to pick up looking for a simple "How do I ..." guide. ( )
  NickDuberley | Mar 5, 2022 |
I can relate to the various reviews offered so far particularly in relation to the English language developing and changing, sometimes for the better, but IMHO, a lot of the time for the worse.
However . . .
Beside my bed is A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler. When I haven't a book on the go I find dipping into Fowler fascinating. Open it anywhere and you find erudite commentary, acerbic criticism and witty comparisons, all expressed in perfect English. Some of the articles are an absolute delight to read.
  B.S.M. | Apr 29, 2020 |
The world would be a far happier place if we all just buckled down and accepted Fowler as being infallible.
2 vote ivanfranko | Jun 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fowler, H. W.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Crystal, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gowers, ErnestEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Preface to the first edition:
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BROTHER 
FRANCIS GEORGE FOWLER, M.A. CANTAB

WHO SHARED WITH ME THE PLANNING OF THIS BOOK, BUT DID NOT LIVE TO SHARE THE WRITING.
First words
PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION [1965, 2nd edition]: 
'It took the world by storm' said The Times, in its obituary notice of H. W. Fowler, about The King's English, published by him and his younger brother Frank in 1906. That description might have been more fitly applied to the reception of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage which followed twenty years later...
a, an. A is used before all consonants except silent h (a history, an hour); an was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with h and is still often seen and heard (an historian an hotel, an hysterical scene, an hereditary title, an habitual offender).
Quotations
fissionable is a word that was coined by atomic scientists for their own purposes and met with some criticism. But plenty of our adjectives are made that way – questionable, objectionable, impressionable, etc., and it must be presumed that the old word fissile did not give them quite the meaning they wanted.
Under way (not weigh) is the right phrase for in motion; it has nothing to do with the anchor's being aweigh. Strictly a vessel is under way when she is not at anchor or made fast or aground; she may be under way and yet have no way on her.
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Disambiguation notice
A Dictionary of Modern English was originally written by Henry Watson Fowler and published in 1926. Revisions were made by Sir Ernest Gowers for the 2nd Edition, published in 1965, but these revisions kept the vast majority of Fowler's work intact and did not alter the approach of the work. A third edition by R. W. Burchfield was in fact a completely rewritten work that dramatically altered even the objective of the work.

As a result, the third edition is a separate work, while the Gowers revision is catalogued (at least for the time being) with the original edition by Fowler.
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No book had more influence on twentieth-century attitudes to the English language in Britain than Henry Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It rapidly became the standard work of reference for the correct use of English in terms of choice of words, grammar, and style. Much loved for his firm opinions, passion, and dry humour, Fowler has stood the test of time and is still considered the best arbiter of good practice. Now one of today's leading experts on thelanguage, David Crystal, has reassessed Fowler's contribution in this fascinating new edition. Crystal goes beyond the popular my

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Book description
Guide to the correct use of the English language in speech or writing.
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