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Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage 1st Edition

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0877796336
ISBN-10: 0877796335
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Editorial Reviews Review

Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage is a dictionary. It is not a usage guide. It is not Fowler, or Partridge, or Bernstein (nor, at 799 pages, is it exactly concise, but that's another matter). Unlike those eminent watchdogs of the English language, the editors of this volume are record-keepers, chronicling the way language is used, not the way it should be used. Based on Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, this book cites the classic English-language specialists generously but finds its true course by observing actual contemporary usage. Take the word discomfit, for example, the meaning of which (to thwart, foil, or frustrate) is staunchly defended in many usage guides. Sorry, says Merriam-Webster. Their survey says that the use of the word as a synonym to discomfort is so entrenched as to have become "thoroughly established" as the most prevalent meaning. Though the editors of this book are more reporters than campaigners, their prose is eminently readable, charming, and even, like that of the best usage enforcers, quirky. For instance, the word data, they claim, is a "queer fish," while errata "leads a double life," and yclept is "peculiar-looking." --Jane Steinberg

About the Author

The Merriam brothers desired a continuity of editorship that would link Noah Webster's efforts with their own editions, so they selected Chauncey A. Goodrich, Webster's son-in-law and literary heir, who had been trained in lexicography by Webster himself, to be their editor in chief. Webster's son William also served as an editor of that first Merriam-Webster dictionary, which was published on September 24, 1847.

Although Webster's work was honored, his big dictionaries had never sold well. The 1828 edition was priced at a whopping $20; in 13 years its 2,500 copies had not sold out. Similarly, the 1841 edition, only slightly more affordable at $15, moved slowly. Assuming that a lower price would increase sales, the Merriams introduced the 1847 edition at $6, and although Webster's heirs initially questioned this move, extraordinary sales that brought them $250,000 in royalties over the ensuing 25 years convinced them that the Merriams' decision had been abundantly sound.

The first Merriam-Webster dictionary was greeted with wide acclaim. President James K. Polk, General Zachary Taylor (hero of the Mexican War and later president himself), 31 U.S. senators, and other prominent people hailed it unreservedly. In 1850 its acceptance as a resource for students began when Massachusetts ordered a copy for every school and New York placed a similar order for 10,000 copies to be used in schools throughout the state. Eventually school use would spread throughout the country. In becoming America's most trusted authority on the English language, Merriam-Webster dictionaries had taken on a role of public responsibility demanded of few other publishing companies. 


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Product Details

  • Series: Dictionary
  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Merriam-Webster; 1 edition (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877796335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877796336
  • ASIN: B004L2KNI2
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,037,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary Of English Usage: The Essentials Of Clear Expression is a well organized, extremely practical, "user friendly" writer's reference. More than 2,000 extensive and meticulous entries discuss the nuances in the daily uses, both historical and present, of commonly confused words in the English language. Enhanced with a multi-page bibliography, Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary Of English Usage is a solid and highly recommended guide for anyone who works with words as a core aspect of their career.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By pinerat on April 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
I am fascinated with and by words.

Because of that, I found this book to be a useful dictionary, covering words from a/an and abbreviations to zoom, and the "problems" or differences that may arise in usage for those whose job is working with words.

There is also a short ("brief" in the words of the dictionary) history of the English language, a pronunciation guide, and a bibliography of source materials for the advice given in the body of the dictionary.
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By Plato on January 27, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ever get irritated over shifting locutions and their increasing acceptability, from "ain't" to "in regards to"? This tome might soothe your soul. It is not a dictionary of "correct usage" but an insightful, historical accounting of how we speak and how our speech patterns and favored locutions change over time. Language ain't what it used to be. But, of course, it never was. This concise version of the larger work is helpful enough, unless you are a linguist or particularly obsessive in regards to (sic!) certain abuses of linguistic traditions.
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Much better than most style guides; this book offers historical and grammatical context about each entry that allows for a better understanding of prescribed usage than regular style guides, which don't offer much more in explanation than "don't do it because it's wrong".
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