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A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Second Edition (Garner's Modern American Usage) Hardcover – 9 Oct 2003


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Amazon.com: 30 reviews
151 of 156 people found the following review helpful
A worthy heir to Fowler 16 Dec 2003
By Brian Melendez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For three generations, a single book dominated the market as the authoritative reference in matters of grammar, style, and usage in the English language: "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage" by H.W. Fowler, first published in 1926, ably revised by Sir Ernest Gowers in 1965, and now in its third edition (published 1996). But by the century's last quarter, the modern English language -- particularly its American dialect -- had begun outgrowing Fowler, and several newer guides began competing with it. The third (1996) edition of Fowler was a disappointment, and left the field without a clear leading authority.
That gap was filled in 1998, when Bryan A. Garner wrote "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage" (published by the Oxford University Press, which also published Fowler). Finally, someone had written a book that matched Fowler -- not only in its erudition, but also in its accessible style, and even its wry sense of humor. And Garner's book had the advantages of being written both in modern times for a modern audience, and in the United States by an American author about American English. The book is a gem, and as authoritative a reference as you will find in this field in the last several decades (and probably the next several too).
"Garner's Modern American Usage" is this oustanding work's second edition, now retitled after its author in view of the acclaim that the first edition earned. A new edition is appearing after only five years because, as Garner explains, "changing usage isn't really the primary basis for a new edition of a usage guide: it's really a question of having had five more years for research." The payoff shows. And the second edition builds upon the first: the first edition was a dictionary of words in usage, rather than words about usage, and therefore assumed that the reader possessed a certain working knowledge of basic grammatical terms and concepts. For example, the first edition didn't define such basic terms as "sentence," "phrase," "clause," "word," or "part of speech." The second edition appends a glossary that defines many such basic concepts. It also appends, as did the first edition, an 11-page chronology of books about usage, which illustrates both the rich tradition that Garner's work joins, as well as the tremendous resources upon which he drew in producing this magnum opus.
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Roll over Fowler; tell Partridge the news... 30 April 2004
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant book. It is as erudite and authoritative as a usage book should be, but without offensive cant or needless pedantry. It is scrupulously edited and handsomely presented by the Oxford University Press in their usual exemplary manner. While Bryan A.Garner concentrates on American English usage (that's where the market is) he is no stranger to "BrE" or any other kind of English. Just to give you a hint about what makes the man tick and why he is now considered the preeminent authority on "grammar, usage, and style" (as a blurb on the book's cover--for a change--rightly has it), consider these words from the Preface to the Second Edition:

"People have asked whether enough has really changed in English usage since 1998 to justify a new edition. The answer is that changing usage isn't really the primary basis for a new edition of a usage guide: it's really a question of having had five more years for research."

He isn't kidding. What Garner brings to this usage book that completely dwarfs* all previous efforts is a gargantuan research regimen. This is clear from the thousands of examples of usage presented, both good and bad, from all manner of publications: newspapers, small town and big city; novels, classic and contemporary; magazines and journals, literary and scientific, etc. Garner obviously has a passion for words and seems determined to let no genre or form of reading matter go unread or unscrutinized. I didn't find an example from one of my reviews, but (given the many faux pas that I have, alas, committed in nearly 800 reviews) I fully expect that dubious honor in the third edition!). Yes, Garner is onto the Web and indeed he frequently quotes statistics of use garnered (sorry!) from such sites as NEXIS and WESTLAW allowing him to say, for example, about "analytical" and "analytic" that "the long form is five times as common as the short."

This is an interesting development in usage books. As Garner notes in his introductory essay, "Making Peace in the Language Wars," there are two types of linguists, "prescribers" and "describers," or as it used to be said (more narrowly) there are "prescriptive grammarians" and "descriptive grammarians," and never the twain shall meet. The former in both cases, as Garner has it, "seek to guide" while the latter "seek to discover...how native speakers actually use their language."

Obviously, no one who writes a usage guide can be a strict describer. Indeed throughout the history of usage guidance most of the authors have been primarily prescribers: "this is the way the word should be used"; "this is improper" and even "this is an abomination!" Garner follows the tradition and even goes so far as to label, for example, the employment of "defunk" for "defunct" as a "ghastly blunder."

So he is clearly a prescriber (as he admits). But unlike most of his illustrious predecessors he is a describer as well. He lets us see how the language is actually used and he gracefully bows (on occasion) as much to the preponderance of usage as he does to venerable authority and his own good judgment. Thus we have a usage dictionary for the 21st century, alive, vital and moving carefully with the tide, but not swept away by it.

Needless to say I do have a few disagreements. I will present a couple for sport, fully realizing that he is the authority and I am merely a respectful, sometime critic.

For example, Garner writes a very nice little essay on sexist language entitled "SEXISM." However there is no comparable entry on "racism" or word entries for "African-American," "Afro-American," or "black." I think there should be, as some guidance in word choice here is sometimes sorely needed. I have the feeling that Garner is not so much dodging the subject as he is fully preparing himself for the next edition. There is an entry on "ageism" (so spelled indicates Garner although the similar word "aging" is without the "e"), but no discussion of various usage concerns.

Also, he writes (on page 418 in the essay entry "HYPERCORRECTION" under item "J."): "When a naturalized...foreignism appears, the surrounding words--with a few exceptions...--should be English. Thus, one refers to <finding the mot juste> not <finding le mot juste> (a common error among the would-be literati)." However, I would say that using the French "le" as part of the phrase is a useful emphasis, much as one, when speaking, might emphasize the word "the" by pronouncing it with a long "e."

These and perhaps other picayunes aside, let me say unequivocally that this book is a treasure trove of knowledge about our language second to none that I have ever read and a singular pleasure to read and peruse.

I should also mention the three splendid appendices: A 13-page "Select Glossary" on words about words ("gerund," "homograph," etc.); a very interesting "Lifeline of Books on Usage" beginning in 1762; and a "Select Bibliography" of dictionaries, usage books, grammars, and books on style.

*This use of "dwarf" as a transitive verb is not given in Garner's book, although there is an entry on the noun form. I checked Webster's Second International and my spelling (not the ugly "dwarves") agrees with theirs.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A worthy heir to Fowler 26 Nov 2003
By Brian Melendez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For three generations, a single book dominated the market as the authoritative reference in matters of grammar, style, and usage in the English language: "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage" by H.W. Fowler, first published in 1926, ably revised by Sir Ernest Gowers in 1965, and now in its third edition (published 1996). But by the century's last quarter, the modern English language -- particularly its American dialect -- had begun outgrowing Fowler, and several newer guides began competing with it. The third (1996) edition of Fowler was a disappointment, and left the field without a clear leading authority.
That gap was filled in 1998, when Bryan A. Garner wrote "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage" (published by the Oxford University Press, which also published Fowler). Finally, someone had written a book that matched Fowler -- not only in its erudition, but also in its accessible style, and even its wry sense of humor. And Garner's book had the advantages of being written both in modern times for a modern audience, and in the United States by an American author about American English. The book is a gem, and as authoritative a reference as you will find in this field in the last several decades (and probably the next several too).
"Garner's Modern American Usage" is this oustanding work's second edition, now retitled after its author in view of the acclaim that the first edition earned. A new edition is appearing after only five years because, as Garner explains, "changing usage isn't really the primary basis for a new edition of a usage guide: it's really a question of having had five more years for research." The payoff shows. And the second edition builds upon the first: the first edition was a dictionary of words in usage, rather than words about usage, and therefore assumed that the reader possessed a certain working knowledge of basic grammatical terms and concepts. For example, the first edition didn't define such basic terms as "sentence," "phrase," "clause," "word," or "part of speech." The second edition appends a glossary that defines many such basic concepts. It also appends, as did the first edition, an 11-page chronology of books about usage, which illustrates both the rich tradition that Garner's work joins, as well as the tremendous resources upon which he drew in producing this magnum opus.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Terrific 8 Mar 2006
By Jeffrey A. Sherman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For years I have relied upon and loved Fowler's Modern English Usage. I think Garner is a terrific successor to Fowler. He expands upon what Fowler offers and puts more of an American spin on his entries. I particularly like his expanded entries on pronounciation, phrasal adjectives, and hypercorrection. I think this volume is very useful for those who taking writing seriously.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
New edition of Garner's Modern American Usage due out in 2008 1 Mar 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I agree with all the reviewers that Garner's Modern American Usage is one of the best (if not THE best) books on Usage. I recently attended Brian Garner's writing seminar (also excellent!) and he told me that he will have a new edition of this book in 2008. I'm thinking of waiting until then to purchase it.
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