Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage Hardcover – 26 Mar 2015
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Jeremy Butterfield has given us easily the best edition of this beloved work since H. W. Fowler's original. For anyone who cares about the English language, this book will provide helpful guidance and fascinating distraction in equal measure. (Times Literary Supplement, Benjamin George Friedman)
The book is impressively up to date, with entries on internet-related neologisms: hash-tag is here and selfie, and the verb to google (which Butterfield does not object to, insisting only that is should be capitalized) ... easily the best edition of this beloved work since H.W Fowler's original. For anyone who cares about the English language, this book will provide helpful guidance and fascinating distraction in equal measure. (Benjamin George Friedman, The Times Literary Supplement)
Butterfield's passion for discussing language is evident throughout ... This edition is rich in examples of language in use and discussion of debates about appropriate usage. (Lisa Pettifer, Babel: The Language Magazine)
here is another fascinating tome that will be in constant use by yours truly (Suffolk & Norfolk Life)
Butterfield has created a guide that is readable for entertainment as well as enlightenment. (World Wide Words, Michael Quinion)
I must congratulate Jeremy Butterfield, editor of the latest edition of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. To wordsmiths such as myself, Fowler's is akin to the Koran or the Bible. (The Herald, Alan Taylor)
About the Author
Jeremy Butterfield is an OUP author, language expert, writer, and lexicographer. For many years he worked in senior editorial positions in Collins Dictionaries. He is the author of the popular book on the English language, Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare (2009), as well as the Oxford A-Z of English Usage (2013). Robert Burchfield (1923-2004) was born in Wangannui, New Zealand. He edited the third and the revised third edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage. His distinguished lexicographical career included a number of key publications: The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (1966, with C. T. Onions and G. W. S. Friedrichsen) and The English Language (1985). Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933) worked as a teacher and freelance writer before going to Guernsey to form a remarkably successful writing partnership with his brother Francis. Most notably, the Fowler brothers wrote The King's English, and compiled the first edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1911). Henry Fowler finished the Pocket Oxford Dictionary in 1924, and Modern English Usage, which made him a household name, in 1926.
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The new editor appears to have done an exhaustive (and exhausting) overhaul of the book, while keeping its spirit alive.
The introduction, where the editor explains how the modern Oxford English Corpus - a database of texts - has helped him to compile the book, is also very interesting.
The advice ranges from the practical and mundane to the more opinionated articles (such as the entry on political correctness). It's a very warm and human book, not a cold and emotionless work like a conventional dictionary. The now-familiar original dedication from the 1926 first edition - where H.W.Fowler tells of how he planned the book with his brother, who died of TB before the book could be written - has lost none of its power, and we can still wonder how the book would have been different had he lived.
There's all the classics too, such as advice and examples on the good old "who vs whom" debate.
I found it was possible to just open the book at random and find interesting entries, so this new edition, like previous editions, isn't just a reference book, it can be dipped into for entertainment and education where required.
Anyone who cares about their writing as I do, either professionally or as a hobby, will be very well served by this book and should buy a copy immediately.
In his introduction, Butterfield admits that in this book he is being both descriptive and prescriptive. That is, he is both describing how English IS used today, and also making comments on how he thinks it SHOULD be used.
Today the experts generally talk about “standard” English rather than “correct” English. But sometimes Butterfield rightly points out that certain things are clearly wrong. For example, we should definitely write “It’s raining”, and not “Its raining”.
However, it is often the case that what is classed as “standard” changes over time, leading to a situation where there might be two ways of writing something, with opinion divided over which is “correct”.
So, for example, “media” is the plural of medium, and it would therefore strictly speaking be correct to say “The mass media are...” rather than “The mass media is...” But Butterfield shows that it is becoming increasingly acceptable to say and write the latter, with “media” being used as a collective noun with singular agreement.
Another example of change is the fact that far more people now write “A historical...” than “An historical...” The former has become “standard”.
The up-to-date nature of the book is also shown by the fact that we have discussions on the use of “website” versus “web site”, and “online” versus “on line” versus “on-line”.
I also like the way that the author shoots down myths such as these three:
(1) That you should never end a sentence with a preposition.
(2) That you should never start a sentence with “And”.
(3) That you should never split an infinitive.
I really like this book, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with Butterfield. For example, he recommends “coordinate” and “cooperate” rather than “co-ordinate” and “co-operate”. But given that he acknowledges that we should write “co-opt” and “co-op”, it seems more logical to me to stick to “co-ordinate” and “co-operate”. But disagreements like this make the whole subject more interesting.
She had always admired our edition and noted the many occasions that we referred
to it, both in conversation and crossword puzzles!
A handsome hardback edition.