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WARNING: Fowler has been kicked out of his own book.
on 9 February 1999
Fans of Fowler will be greatly disappointed by this book, which seems to include nothing written by Fowler, but displays his name in large letters on the spine and cover. Burchfield admits in the preface that he does not understand Fowler's appeal, and does not even like his work: "The mystery remains: why has this schoolmasterly, quixotic, idiosyncratic, and somewhat vulnerable book, in a form only lightly revised once, in 1965, by Ernest Gowers, retained its hold on the imagination of all but professional linguistic scholars for just on seventy years?" The answer to this question, I think, can be found in the how Burchfield and Fowler advise the reader on whether to put the period inside or outside of quotation marks. Burchfield begins with a wimpy "each system has its own merit", and proceeds to an absolute rule: Quotation marks "must be placed according to the sense". Even Garner (A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, a far better book for American readers), who has great praise for Fowler, simply sets out conventional American and British usage. Only Fowler provides an analytical structure ("There are two schools of thought, which might be called the conventional and the logical") and then through clear thinking and perceptive example persuades us that "The conventional system flouts common sense, and it is not easy for the plain man to see what merit it is supposed to have to outweigh that defect". Persuasion is the element that Burchfield and other writers lack. Burchfield believes too much in the authority of the little edicts that make up each entry, even when the entry sets out nothing more than arbitrary convention, whereas Fowler believed that some conventions were bad, and he argued his positions with a passion and humanness that are absent from this book. So keep your first or second edition of Fowler. And shame on the publisher, who is misleading the public by calling the book "The New Fowler's Modern English Usage". Even when Burchfield is kind to Fowler -- for example, he refers to Fowler's entry on elegant variation as a "celebrated, leisurely essay" -- he does not include the essay.