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on 12 September 2011
This book is so well established that it hardly needs any more reviews. When, in 1952 at the age of 32, I started a long career as a writer, H.W. Fowler's work was essential reading and gave me instantly the start that I needed. Even all these years later, it is a great comfort to have it to hand for reference. In my opinion, there is no better book on this subject.
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on 17 December 2009
I like the Gowers version, Burchfield with reservations, but I do recommend this Classic First Edition Fowler for those who want the original. Having struggled for many years with the poorly printed, but cheap, Wordsworth Reference paperback edition, I am now delighted to have this well-printed, well-made, and attractive hardback - at a reasonable price. Congratulations to Oxford and David Crystal!
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on 5 February 2013
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Professor David Crystal is the bearded God of language, particularly the English language. With over 100 books to his name, he has been prolific both in writing and editing. Crystal has produced series of encyclopedias with Cambridge University Press and Penguin and is the author of the brilliant Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

Recently, he has seen the publication of the classic first edition of Henry Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Fowler's Dictionary, as it is widely called, was first published in 1926. It was and still is one of the most influential and authoritative books on modern English usage. Sir Ernest Gowers later edited the 1965 version. In 1996 an Oxford English Dictionary editor published the 3rd edition with considerable input of his own on entries. And now for the first time since its first appearance, Fowler's influential Dictionary is published true to the original, introduced by David Crystal. Crystal provides an invaluable introduction to the Dictionary as well as notes on 300 entries where Fowler's suggestions on usage contradict the actual practice prevalent then or now.

The Dictionary on the whole speaks of the extraordinary skill and expertise of Fowler as a lexicographer and linguist. A thing about the Dictionary that endears most perhaps is the author's genuine enthusiasm. Whilst a dictionary, it is expected, should expose the actual usage in a formal and objective manner, it is nonetheless a pleasure to read through the entries which reveal the author's strong feelings. At times Fowler can be even offensive, like in "The above writers are bogy-haunted creatures..." at Split Infinitive. His contemporaries might not have been amused by or self-conscious of the subjectivity factor and taken much for granted - but the Dictionary is truly one deserving huge appreciation.

Thanks to David Crystal, we can now thumb through this lexicographic landmark, in its virgin form, to appreciate its influence and how it shaped attitudes over decades. Crystal is one of the rare people to have read the entire Dictionary and his opinion and estimation of Fowler's iconic heritage is subsequently invaluable.

The original review can be read at HuffPost UK Culture blog.
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on 10 January 2016
HW Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage was, for its time (90 years ago), a breath of fresh air about how to use English in the best and clearest way. Fowler came along at a time when English really needed him; he combined the bravery of a crusader with what most crusaders for good language usage generally lack, namely sound common sense and genuine scholarship. It was Fowler who first pointed out that there was no intelligent reason to object to a split infinitive. His mini-essays, especially those on abuses of language, are enormously entertaining and some are still very valuable.

Fowler has been revised three times. Sir Ernest Gowers, in 1965, brought all the experience of a career civil servant, and is especially good on officialese and politicians' waffle. Robert Burchfield, in 1996, made a big thing about how he used computers to compare one kind of usage with another, but although he rightly praised the effort to avoid sexist language, in many other respects he was wishy-washily descriptivist and failed to give advice one way or the other. The most recent version, by Jeremy Butterfield in 2015, is more willing than Burchfield to take a position. Fowler's original text is enormously rewarding, but we should not assess language use in 2016 according to standards drawn up by Fowler in 1926.
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on 13 June 2012
Peppered with sardonic humour, this slightly disorganised first edition remains the ultimate authority on grammar, syntax, punctuation and vocabulary. Fowler cautions against pedantry and the ossification of language, but reminds the reader on every page of the bear traps that exist for the unwary writer who, perhaps through comprehensive schooling, believes that 'getting your meaning across' is more important than precision. State schools long ago turned their backs on good English; Fowler is there to tug us back gently to the path of clarity.
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on 23 February 2016
You can't do 'it' without this book. If you want to know anything there is to know about the English language, and how it evolved
into the language it is today, this book is a MUST!
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on 7 November 2014
The gentleman amateur blundered in - and how they lapped it up! The mystery - as, for different reasons, with The Uses of Literacy - is not the extraordinary work itself but the yet more extraordinary renown it garnered. Quaint ain't the word for it - it's deranged. In his day Fowler was seen almost as unstuffy, a neo-Georgian Sir Galahad spearing shibboleths of language such as that one should never start sentences with 'and' or 'but' or end them with a preposition. Now his work positively exudes stuffiness, along with complacency and a kind of concealed prescriptiveness, though more frequently proscribing; infuriating, muddled and arcane, when not simple common sense or 'filler' it's composed chiefly of subjectivity and blether.

Fowler takes against that innocuous, rather perky little phrase au pied de la lettre, calling it an abomination - except in 'perhaps five per cent' of cases(!) - and then fussily proceeds to put a full stop after 'cent'. There's a certain wry humour here, of the kind you might stumble on in Gibbon, but for Gawd's sake don't waste time looking for it. Fowler wrote what he pleased, a cross between an indulged infant prodigy or oracle and a schoolmaster no one has the heart to pension off. His distinction between periphrasis and pleonasm, for instance (listed under the curious rubric Technical Terms), is woeful - any dictionary will serve you better - yet he will gladly drivel on (sorry, expatiate) about tautology, evidently not considered a technical term in his book. It was, actually, his lifeblood, in its subset waffle. Thank heaven for the democracy of the internet, say I. I just checked eponymous on The Grammarist*, but any google search on matters linguistic is liable to find one spoiled/spoilt for choice - long live our vital, protean and now-shared tongue!

I was interested to learn that vermeil rhymed with thermal in English**, which clears up the scansion of a line ('thy vermeil hue') that has troubled me for more years than I care to admit. This useful information was omitted from the second edition, presumably because by 1965 no one said vermeil any more (but some of us still read it - and now no true Brit can pronounce it in French either), though Gowers unaccountably retained the information that vertigo was traditionally stressed on the second syllable; now that should set you up should you ever go in for a spot of time travelling, where I imagine vertigo might be a hazard.

Pronunciation's the minefield. In Fowler's day, of course, one had recourse to the OED and there was an end of it; nowadays linguistic purism (or puritanism, which looks on prescriptiveness with horror) ensures that it's a free-for-all, where the BBC has scuttled the ship and those of us who actually know how to pronounce covert*** and respite, feral and rabid (nothing to do with ferrous or rabbits), flaccid and unconsummated (spot the connexion?) are somewhere between a secret society and a dying breed. Cumin, cadaver, tinnitus, troth (rhymes with both quoth loth, not moth broth wrath).. Theatre folk and above all poets, whose respective crafts require that they love words to distraction and beyond, remain mostly among the initiate. How? By using dictionaries, the way all of us had to (and some still do). They are the custodians of our tongue. Where does that leave linguists, the professionals? Do they love words? Can they even remember what love is? Fowler, clearly no linguist (the obligatory, non-aural classics don't count), accused people who pronounce foreign words correctly of showing off. I'm always keen to learn myself - there's the difference

This musty screed is of purely antiquarian interest - AND ALWAYS WAS. Of course the correct approach is neither prescriptive NOR descriptive but robust common sense and as large a vocabulary as one can muster (hardly any words are redundant; all serve their turn), punctiliousness and vigilance combined ('fastidious precision' (Fowler) but without pedantry or pretension****), respect for forbears whose works we must still be able to read, understand - and pronounce - as their authors intended, together with an ear to the ever-shifting ground

NB If I pass no comment on the Crystalline interpolations, it is because my copy's of the first edition, 1940 reprint. Touching, if disconcerting, that my highly articulate parents felt the need to possess this preposterous talisman, this arbitrary, scarcely ever consulted oracle..

* or, properly, 'Grammarist'
** No word on how to say 'azure', though; were we all presumed to know? (If you want poems to scan - or for any other reason - it's pronounced as the ill-informed and Americans are in the habit of pronouncing Asia, by the way..)
*** If you're in any doubt, it's 'covered' with a Scottish accent, just as kempt is Scots for combed
**** and there's the rub - one man's fastidiousness is another man's pretension. But why can one not be as proud of one's language as one is, say, of one's car? (Answer: only fools are proud of either.) And if it's only a matter of glorified common sense, what need of a fusspot Fowler?
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on 21 April 2015
For browsing only. Don't waste time trying to look up a word. No attempt has been made to make it tablet friendly. You would be better off with the hard copy. The content is good but there is no proper search mechanism. I returned my copy immediately to Amazon.
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on 17 October 2014
a well known authority. nice to have on my Kindle
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on 19 February 2015
If you love our language this is for you
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