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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.