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Grammar and Usage

Fowler's Modern English Usage
by R.W. Burchfield

For generations, lovers of the English language have turned to trusty copies of Fowler's to settle nagging grammatical questions, or, for true hard-core language junkies, for the sheer fun of reading H. W. Fowler's classic outrage contained in entries on "Hackneyed Phrases" or "Pedantic-Humour Words." 

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, the first revision in more than 30 years, has not arrived without controversy. Some language (and Fowler) purists complain that the book is too liberal at times, noting that usage is common as opposed to correct. Those points are debatable, and, indeed, they're what make the book's nearly 900 pages so interesting to peruse. The currency of the new Fowler's extends to, in the entry on "Vogue Words," such novelties as "couch potato," "flavour of the month," "on a roll," and the notorious "parameter" (review from

Sin and Syntax

You gotta love a grammar guide that calls verbs "moody little suckers" and adverbs "promiscuous."  Constance Hale ("Wired Style") relishes prose that is deliberate, beautiful, and bold.  In "Sin and Syntax," Hale offers liberating advice for the struggling writer: Go ahead and break the rules, she says; just know the rules first, and know why you are breaking them. (That final sentence is what hooked us here at Take Our Word For It.)


A Dictionary of Modern American Usage

Author Garner, a lawyer and lexicographer, has created a scholarly and readable masterpiece. He clarifies the dos and don'ts of commas and quotation marks, explains why it's not so awful to end sentences with prepositions, and tackles common confusions, such as lay and lie, flaunt and flout, and assure, insure, and ensure.

Erudite and dryly witty, spectacularly organized and up to date, and attentive to both basic usage and advanced nuances, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage is destined to become the reference of choice for students, scribes, editors, executives, and language devotees.

The King's English

Kingsley Amis's The King's English is as witty and biting as his novels. Modestly presented as a volume "in Kings_English.gif (15409 bytes)which some modern linguistic problems are discussed and perhaps settled," Amis's usage guide is a worthy companion to his revered Fowler's. The King's English is distinctly British, but never mind: it is sensational. And unlike many of his countrymen, Amis is decidedly pro-American, even admitting a "bias towards American modes of expression as likely to seem the livelier and ... smarter alternative." In a world populated by usage mavens too willing to waffle, Amis is refreshingly unequivocal. On the expression meaningful dialogue? It "looks and sounds unbearably pompous. Nevertheless one would not wish to be deprived of a phrase that so unerringly points out its user as a humourless ninny." To cross one's 7's, he says, "is either gross affectation or, these days, straightforward ignorance." And the frequently misused word viable, he claims, "should be dropped altogether ... simply because it has taken the fancy of every trendy little twit on the look-out for a posh word for feasible, practicable." Forget Amis's protestations of being unfit for the position of language arbiter; after all, as he says, "the defence of the language is too large a matter to be left to the properly qualified."

The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker

Looks like an entertaining AND informative work. says, "Charles Harrington Elster's "The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations" is more entertaining than a game of badminton (don't say "bad mitten": "This is sloppy") and more lasting than a daiquiri (that's "DY-kuh-ree"). And best of all, you'll tighten up that flaccid ("FLAK-sid") pronunciation. Kudos ("KOO-dahs") to Elster for setting us straight. For now, anyway. There's a neologism ("nee-AHL-uh-jiz'm") born every day.

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Last Updated 10/09/06 07:50 PM