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A dictionary of modern English usage (edition 1983)

by H. W. Fowler, Ernest Gowers

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2,649163,811 (4.13)29
'What grammarians say should be has perhaps less influence on what shall be than even the more modest of them realize ...'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. In this new edition of the original Dictionary, David Crystal goes beyond the popular mythology surrounding Fowler's reputation to retrace his method and arrive at a fresh evaluation of his place in the history of linguistic thought. With a wealth of entertaining examples he looks at Fowler's stated principles and the tensions between his prescriptive and descriptive temperaments. He shows that the Dictionary does a great more than make normative recommendations and express private opinion. In addition he offers a modern perspective on some 300 entries, in which he shows how English has changed since the 1920s.… (more)
Member:girlwithsixarms
Title:A dictionary of modern English usage
Authors:H. W. Fowler
Other authors:Ernest Gowers
Info:Oxford : Oxford University Press, c1983.
Collections:Your library
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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H. W. Fowler

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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 |
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 27, 2020 |
The world would be a far happier place if we all just buckled down and accepted Fowler as being infallible.
1 vote ivanfranko | Jun 22, 2019 |
Back in the early 2000s, the software company I worked at had some unused books left over from a project, including a late printing of the first edition of H. W. Fowler’s *A Dictionary of Modern English Usage,* first published Great Britain in 1926. So I snagged it. As David Crystal says in his introduction to this new Oxford World’s Classics reprint, Fowler “writes with an attractive frankness, passion, and sincerity, so that even when we disagree with him we recognize that here is someone who has the best of intentions toward the wellbeing of the language. The impression he gives is of an endearingly eccentric, schoolmasterly character, driven at times to exasperation by the infelicities of his wayward pupils, but always wanting the best for them and hoping to provide the best guidance for them in a world where society and language are undergoing rapid change....We encounter entries which display a vivid and imaginative turn of phrase, especially to express his mock-suffering in the face of bad usage.” To a certain kind of reader, one who adores the English language and has a relationship with it akin to one’s relationship with a sibling, Fowler is a lot of fun. That many of the entries are out of date and may never have applied well to American usage at all only adds to the fascination. After over ninety years, you should consult this book to learn how to think about everyday language issues and not necessarily for guidance that you can apply. As an example of Fowler’s tone and approach, here is the opening of his article on *Pedantry:* “Pedantry may be defined…as the saying of things in language so learned or so demonstratively accurate as to imply a slur against the generality, who are not capable or not desirous of such displays. The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, and someone’s else’s ignorance. It is therefore not very profitable to dogmatize here on the subject; an essay would establish not what pedantry is, but only the place in the scale occupied by the author…”

The Oxford World’s Classic reprint (dirt cheap at £9.99 or US$17.95; I got it at half price during Oxford University Press’s annual holiday sale) features a fascimile of the entire book, plus the introduction by Crystal and an appendix of his notes on the entries, which are hit and miss: sometimes he notes how the language has since changed and sometimes he only wants to point a finger and call Fowler’s opinion strange or ridiculous. Overall, the notes are interesting enough to make this edition the one to get. ( )
  john.cooper | Jan 13, 2018 |
725 p.
  BmoreMetroCouncil | Feb 9, 2017 |
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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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'What grammarians say should be has perhaps less influence on what shall be than even the more modest of them realize ...'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. In this new edition of the original Dictionary, David Crystal goes beyond the popular mythology surrounding Fowler's reputation to retrace his method and arrive at a fresh evaluation of his place in the history of linguistic thought. With a wealth of entertaining examples he looks at Fowler's stated principles and the tensions between his prescriptive and descriptive temperaments. He shows that the Dictionary does a great more than make normative recommendations and express private opinion. In addition he offers a modern perspective on some 300 entries, in which he shows how English has changed since the 1920s.

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