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4.5 out of 5 stars
The King's English (Penguin Modern Classics)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 30 November 2011
This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to English usuage, unlike Fowler, of whom Amis is a big fan. Instead it is a collection of the commonest errors and Amis's pet dislikes.

Generally, I found him to be (surprisingly?) sensible guide. His recommended overall approach (which is very similar to Fowler's) is that neologisms and stylistic inventions should be resisted strongly at first, but to go with the flow once they become universal - because otherwise you risk being seen as a pedant, a fogey and a figure of fun. This seems sensible advice to me, and does his recommendation to put clarity of meaning first, even when this means breaking strict grammatical rules.

He gives some nice examples of the misuse of words - jejune is an brilliant one; the English word that have now turned into a French one with a new meaning.

There's the odd attempt at winding up the more politically correct (that'll be me then) such as the section on Womanese - the quasi-human language style often used by women. This is very unfair, but...he has a point.

Entertaining and useful - worth four stars.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2001
This book firstly relies on the reader being first pernickity about the use of language, second grouchy and third susceptible to Amis' (by this stage familiarly comic) right-wing act. Although there is little doubt that Amis held his political views firmly, he also revelled in the avuncular role of the curmudgeon, and it is in this light that the book should be viewed. Published posthumously, The King's English (and an entry on the pun is included) sets out Amis' manifesto on the usage of the language. Any reading of his fiction will have shown preoccupation with the correct use of language. As befits an author so deft at writing comically realistic dialogue, this often appears in observations about the spoken word (for example, see the following exchange from Jake's Thing, between Jake and his new doctor:
'Now your trouble is that your libido [lib-eedo] has declined.'
'My what?' asked Jake, though he had understood all right.
'Your libido, your sexual drive.'
'I'm sorry, I'd be inclined to pronounce it lib-ighdo, on the basis that we're talking English, not Italian or Spanish, but I suppose it'll make for simplicity if I go along with you. So, yes, my lib-eedo has declined.'
The book lists Kingsley's musings in alphabetical order. He distinguishes between those abusers of the language he describes with the popular expletives for one who engages in onanism, and a person of uncertain parentage, and he details his shibboleths by which to judge the standard of a person's English. (Incidentally, Microsoft Word wants to change the word 'onanism', which it underlines in red, to 'unionism.' In The King's English, Amis puts his case for the typewriter over the word-processor, but he may have appreciated the right-wing revisions of my Microsoft software.) The tone is light, and the author frequently on the wind up, but the book does serve as a way to steer between correct use and over-correct use (where the writer would be subject to ridicule).
Not quite Fowler's English Usage, but an idiosyncratic, witty and as with everything Amis Senior, thoroughly entertaining addition to a reference shelf.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 1 October 2013
Written during the reign of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, there can be no doubt that the title here refers not to the language as defined by the sovereign, but to the language as defined by "The King", as Kingsley Amis (KA) was known by, to some of his close friends.

Many of us are probably guilty of the mistake of assuming that the verbal dexterity shown by writers such as KA comes pretty naturally and that given the time and a bit of effort that there is no reason why most of us could not produce a novel or two without tripping up on points of grammar or meaning. Ahhh, but how mistaken we are. Writing is a skill as much as any other, and good writing is that skill at its peak, comparable to the skill of a concert pianist or a professional golfer or a master glass-cutter. High skills require innate talent, hard work and dedication. And it really should come as no surprise to find that KA had always to hand his Oxford English Dictionary and his copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage and that these reference books were his "Bibles" throughout his hugely successful writing career. And during those years he honed his own skills to such a degree that he could write this unique personal contribution to English grammar and usage. Who would have thought that a grammar book would make one laugh out loud? Well, this one does.

In "The King's English" KA provides us in a condensed form the fundamental knowledge that aspirant writers (and readers) should have, although as he points out, and as we know deep down, many writers do not seem to have this basic knowledge (read the newspapers and listen to daily radio for a constant stream of bloomers, (or is that bloopers?)).

So, here we have instruction and advice on:

The "dangling participle".
The "split infinitive" ("to boldly go." acceptable or not?).
Is it permissible to end a sentence with a preposition? YES!!
What's the difference between "illusion" and "delusion" ? ("..that the sun moves round the earth was once a delusion, and is still an illusion.")
When should we use "Classic" instead of "classical"? (Classic FM...correct?..apparently not!)
Beware of adding "ly" to already perfectly good adverbs...lastly, but not leastly! What nextly!!??

Kingsley gives us his views and guidance on these and on many, many other writing issues, all in his own inimitable and highly amusing style.

A last example - He includes a long list of French expressions that are often used in English, and he adds his advice on how to pronounce (and not to pronounce) them:

"liqueur" he tells us to pronounce "Lih-CURE", and he goes on to note that
"Any attempt to say "lee-cur" in a Frenchified way is a useful wanker-detector".

You really will laugh out loud a lot, and learn a lot too, when reading this absolutely wonderful book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 October 2008
In this slim volume, Kingsley Amis imparts more wit and wisdom than you're likely to come across in tomes twice the size or more. It's a delight to read cover to cover, and then to dip into as the need arises. Whilst you're unlikely to agree with every one of KA's pronouncements, you will be stimulated to ask yourself why not. Although its primary aim is proper English, as opposed to the mongrel variety we are now subjected to on a daily basis, French expressions come in for discussion, as also does the odd Latin phrase. If you want to be highly amused, mildly exasperated and discreetly educated, then you will not be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2013
'The King's English' deserves the praise heaped upon it. It's provocative and thought-provoking, informative and laugh-out-loud funny -- its one detractor on Amazon needs a sense-of-humour transplant, and fast!

What it isn't is definitive or exhaustive, but then Amis clearly didn't intend it to be. It's too slim a volume to be the latter and often too controversial to be the former. Rather, it's a selective set of musings on modern-usage issues that piqued the author's interest or ire; his take on them bursts more than a few bubbles that more conventional guides -- even those produced since Amis's death -- (let alone most English teachers) still want to keep aloft. No reader will agree with every one of the author's opinions -- that's a big part of the book's appeal -- but every reader will recognize that his motive is always clarity and unfussiness of expression. In my professional life, I frequently dip into style and usage guides, but 'The King's English' is the only one I know that warrants and rewards reading from cover to cover with no particular writing assignment in mind. Its lasting value is the way it channels the writer, without his or her even being aware of it at the time, towards a finer understanding of familiar (but usually misapplied) turns of phrase and a greater discernment in the use of the language.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2011
I enjoyed this fascinating book. I was surprised to find that it hardly seemed dated at all. Valuable and interesting ideas presented wittily and with the unique voice of Kingsley Amis. He would not have been happy however to spot the odd case of what he called 'preserving in mid-column a hyphen originally put at the end of a line to signal a word-break'. As I said in the title the book is both entertaining and informative.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2003
I keep Fowler next to my desk, which works well as a reference book when you have a specific question. This is an ideal companion volume, and being much more digestible is in many ways more useful. It works best as a book to dip in to, and made me laugh out loud several times. A guaranteed cure for dogmatic pedants...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2012
Reading through this informative and engaging update on the original "King's English" is a sheer delight. They don't make people like this any more! Intelligent but not overbearing. Witty. Brilliant. He must have been the perfect dinner guest - if you didn't refill his glass too quickly. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2013
I happily endorse all the compliments showered on this book.

I've just looked up my own copy to see whether it mentioned one of my personal bugbears; it doesn't but it might have,were it being written today. The bugbear? The use of the phrase "to beg the question" when the speaker/writer means "to raise the question". Begging the q. means something quite different,but I am well aware that if this solecism continues to gain ground the day will come when it is accepted as good English. Poor old Kingsley will need plenty of turning space in his grave!

Douglas Wood
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on 6 November 2014
Calling his book “The King’s English” implies that Amis has written a reworking the manual of the same name by the Fowlers. But he has not done so. This is not as Amis claims “a work of definition and reference”. What Amis has produced is a set of articles about topics that interest him. A few have little relevance to English usage – “Typewriter vs. word-processor” for example. The articles are arranged alphabetically although why is not clear. That decreases the book’s usefulness. Thus a list of Latin words that are used in English, is not easy to find. It appears at the end of a relatively long rambling article on the value of studying Latin, but even then not under L but under D. Amis gives a number of examples of words whose meaning is ambiguous, having a general usage that is different from the technical definition or from an older meaning. (Decimate is one; Amis tells us it meant the execution of one in ten of a legion as punishment.) But these are not collected together.
What Amis has to say is nearly always sensible. Whether or not you like the book I think depends on whether you find the style and manner in which it is written, congenial or irritating. Amis admits to a “didactic or put ‘em right side” to his nature. He comes across as opinionated and somewhat cantankerous. I suspect that is in part a pose; a character he decided to adopt. If Amis’s account of his dealings with a salesman out to get him to try a word-processor is correct, Amis could be discourteous, unfair and unkind; I can imagine the young man departing muttering, “Silly old fart”.
The style fits the personality; I find the style ponderous and not always immediately clear. Amis writes, “Occasionally I think that a kind of training that has for many years been more than avocational is no real training at all, is one that fits its recipients better for argufying than for argument, and am suitably chastened.” I would urge anyone thinking of buying the book to read a page first.
Amis has a long section on pronunciation. The point, as Amis says elsewhere, is to be understood. Pronunciation, in my view, does not matter except for a few words like “desert”, provided it is not so outlandish as to be incomprehensible. Amis asserts that the building where the Commons sits is pronounced Wessminster. Why not “West-Minster” or something between? Dictionaries in any case give Received Pronunciation (R P) and one might as well follow R P as not. I think this section should have been left out.
Amis’s advice on the pronunciation of foreign words is much more useful in part because there are not many of them so the list can cover most in common use, and in part because getting the pronunciation “wrong” can make one seem either ignorant on the one hand or pretentious on the other.
A problem with The King’ English is that those who would benefit most are the least likely to read it. The same is true for other books on English usage. As Amis says, ”The most that can be offered is some guidance for those that want it”. That the book provides.
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