A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
Author H. W. Fowler
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Published 1926
Publisher Oxford University Press
OCLC 815620926

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), by Henry Watson Fowler (1858–1933), is a style guide to British English usage, pronunciation, and writing. Covering topics including plurals and literary technique, distinctions among like words (such as homonyms and synonyms), and the use of foreign terms, it became the standard for most style guides that followed; thus, the 1926 first edition remains in print despite the existence of the 1965 second edition, and the 1996 and 2004 printings of the third edition, which was mostly rewritten as a usage dictionary incorporating corpus linguistics data;[1] the 2015 fourth edition follows similar principles to the third. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage is informally known as Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Fowler, and Fowler’s.

Linguistic approach[edit]

In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Henry W. Fowler’s general approach encourages a direct, vigorous writing style, and opposes all artificiality, by firmly advising against convoluted sentence construction, the use of foreign words and phrases, and the use of archaisms. He opposed pedantry, and ridiculed artificial grammar rules unwarranted by natural English usage, such as bans on split infinitives and on ending a sentence with a preposition; rules on the placement of the word only; and rules distinguishing between which and that. He classified and condemned every cliché, in the course of which he coined and popularised the terms battered ornament, Wardour Street, vogue words, and worn-out humour, while defending useful distinctions between words whose meanings were coalescing in practice, thereby guiding the speaker and the writer away from illogical sentence construction, and the misuse of words. In the entries "Pedantic Humour" and "Polysyllabic Humour" Fowler mocked the use of arcane words (archaisms) and the use of long words.

Quotations[edit]

Widely and often cited, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage is renowned for its witty passages, such as:

Didacticism 
The speaker who has discovered that Juan and Quixote are not pronounced in Spain as he used to pronounce them as a boy is not content to keep so important a piece of information to himself; he must have the rest of us call them Hwan and Keehotay; at any rate he will give us the chance of mending our ignorant ways by doing so.[2]
French Words 
Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth — greater indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners.[3]
Inversion 
Writers who observe the poignancy sometimes given by inversion, but fail to observe that 'sometimes' means 'when exclamation is appropriate', adopt inversion as an infallible enlivener; they aim at freshness and attain frigidity.[4]
Split Infinitive 
The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish. . . . Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by the minority classes.[5]
Terribly 
It is strange that a people with such a fondness for understatement as the British should have felt the need to keep changing the adverbs by which they hope to convince listeners of the intensity of their feelings.[6]
Welsh rarebit 
Welsh rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh rarebit is stupid and wrong.[7][8][9]

Editions[edit]

The title page of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926)

Before writing A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Henry Fowler and his younger brother, Francis George Fowler (1871–1918), wrote and revised The King's English (1906), a grammar and usage guide later superseded by this book in the 1930s. Moreover, he researched the Dictionary assisted by Francis, who died in 1918 of tuberculosis, which he contracted in service with the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War (1914–1918). Fowler thus dedicated the Dictionary to his brother, Francis George:

I think of it as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullnesses enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied . . . having been designed in consultation with him, it is the last fruit of a partnership that began in 1903 with our translation of Lucian.[10]

The first edition of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) was much reprinted; thus, a reprint wherein the copyright page indicates 1954, as the most recent reprinting year, also notes that the 1930 and 1937 reprintings were "with corrections". The second edition, Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1965) was revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, who updated the text, contributed entries, and deleted articles "no longer relevant to [current] literary fashions". For the twenty-first century, the third edition, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996), was revised and published as Fowler’s Modern English Usage (2004), the editor of which, Robert Burchfield, in the preface acknowledges that, while "Fowler’s name remains on the title-page . . . his book has been largely rewritten." A fourth edition, edited by Jeremy Butterfield, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015.[11] The substantive and editorial differences between the first and third editions are that the former is a prescriptive style guide to clear and expressive writing, while the latter is a descriptive usage guide to spoken and written English.[citation needed] The 2009 reprinting of the 1926 first edition contains an introduction and commentary by the linguist David Crystal. The Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage edited by Robert Allen was published by OUP in 1999. It was based mainly on Burchfield's 1996 edition, abridged to 40% by omitting about half the entries and reducing others; there was also some new content.[12] A second edition of Allen's "Pocket Fowler" was published in 2008, which OUP said "harks back to the original 1926 edition".[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Third edition preface, page xi
  2. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. p. 129.
  3. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. pp. 212–213.
  4. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. pp. 295–302.
  5. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. pp. 579–582.
  6. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. p. 618.
  7. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. pp. 650–652.
  8. ^ Weber, John (1978). Good Reading: A Guide for Serious Readers. R. R. Bowker. p. 225. 
  9. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 284. ISBN 0-300-10798-6. 
  10. ^ A Dictionary of Modern Usage, Second Edition, 1965. H.W. Fowler. Oxford University Press:New York, Oxford. p. xiii
  11. ^ Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage
  12. ^ Allen, Robert (2008-06-26). "Preface to the second edition". Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. v. ISBN 9780199232581. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  13. ^ "Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage: Paperback: Robert Allen". UK Catalogue. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 

References[edit]

  • Fowler, Henry; Winchester, Simon (introduction) (2003 reprint). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford Language Classics Series). Oxford Press. ISBN 0-19-860506-4.
  • Nicholson, Margaret (1957). A Dictionary of American-English Usage Based on Fowler's Modern English Usage. Signet, by arrangement with Oxford University Press.

Similar works[edit]