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Modern American Usage: A Guide [Paperback]

Wilson Follett
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1, 1966 080900139X 978-0809001392
A classic since its first edition in 1966, Modern American Usage has been called a book that “every literate American ought to read.” Now fully revised and brought up-to-date, this one-volume course in good writing brims with helpful answers—large and small—for readers who want to use English clearly, naturally, and correctly.

Alphabetical for easy consulting (and full of cross-references), the book carries the reader to the entry that explains a troublesome word or phrase—and shows how to use or avoid it. Every page offers natural ways to avoid saying or writing the vague, the long-winded, the needlessly technical, and the hopelessly stale. With verve and eloquence, Erik Wensberg spears the empty words that clog clear thought—“impact,” “frustrated,” “basically,” and many more—and offers us good English words that are definite and have more life.

Offering standards by which to judge language now and in the future, Modern American Usage takes account of a generation of changes in American idiom and of attempts to reform the use of pronouns, titles, and phrases to fit shifting ideals of social justice. All this it does with easy learning and with sympathy alike for the experienced writer and for those who come new to American English.

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Editorial Reviews


Nobody has discussed these matters with greater lucidity and concision (another linguistic virtue) than Wilson Follett.... You cannot read Modern American Usage in one or two sittings: This is a handbook to be perused for pleasure as well as instruction a few pages at a time, to be savored for its common sense and its many fine positive and negative examples. And, of course, to be consulted as the need arises. -- The Wall Street Journal, John Simon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Erik Wensberg has worked as an editor at Esquire and The New York Times Book Review, and has taught nonfiction writing at Columbia University.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (January 1, 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080900139X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809001392
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,271,844 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! This is an essential guide to proper usage. October 15, 1998
Wensberg's revision of Follett's famous guide is essential for anyone concerned with the clarity, style, and literacy of their writing.
An essential complement to a dictionary and grammar primers, a usage guide addresses the finer points of use and misuse of words, style, clarity, and grammar issues. For example, when should you use intensive or intense? What are common mistakes writers make with a, an, and the? What is the proper way to pronounce length?
Somewhat similar to Fowler's famous usage guide, Follett's is an outstanding and essential guide. I find Follett's guide much more readable than Fowler's (The New Fowler's Modern English Usage). Also, Fowler's has a British spin to it (Fowler's English Usage vs. Follet's American Usage).
Fowler's is more in-depth and covers more words, but with much denser and technical text. Follet's can be read for fun; Fowler's strikes me as more of a reference text.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful, elegant, amusing... December 4, 1998
By A Customer
An enjoyable book. Erik Wensberg is a master stylist and his remarks on good and bad writing are often amusing and always helpful. Given the quality of the writing, it would be fun to read the book sequentially, but a wonderful system of cross-referencing draws one pleasurably here and there, from "collateral damage" to "euphemisms", and from there to "forbidden words," or "vogue words" like "window of opportunity" or "the suffix -BASHING (corporation-bashing / mother-bashing) [which] makes melodrama of a slighting remark." Comparing Wensberg with Follett, one admires W's editorial imagination and his respect for the "original." In his Preface, he writes that he has "judged every entry in the original text for its value to the present-day reader, omitting some entries, shortening others, and adding a good many new ones [...] Malaprops being as quick to sprout as weeds, I have gathered a new crop to put with the old." This is a marvelous book!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For conservative writers February 26, 2003
First I must disagree with the reviewer who calls a noun followed by an apostrophe and an "s" a possessive noun. There is room for legitimate argument here, and I prefer to call such a word a possessive adjective. To me it is far more adjective than noun and so the noun part of it can't be an antecedent for a later pronoun. Therefore, I agree with what the reviser of Follett's book says rather than with what he does. Another man, who was once an English professor at Ohio State (Corbett, I think), and for all I know may be there still, also frowns heavily on the use of a possessive noun or possessive adjective as an antecedent. One must simply find a way to reconstruct passages that tempt one to break this commandment.
I once read Follett's book from cover to cover. The man (not he) was an elegant writer. Nowadays I dip into it to refresh my memory and to find passages to use as arguments in pointing out the writing faults of others.
Description is a fine thing, but I'm a member of the prescriptive school and so am perfectly happy with Follett's edicts. When several people are working together to produce a single book or series of books, they must all be following the same path.
My only objection to Follett's book is the lack of an index. His section titles are not always straightforward or descriptive, so some things are hard to find.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Follett's Guide to Usage July 5, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As one who thinks it necessary to own every major English usage manual from Fowler on, I here state the firm opinion that Follett is the best of the reasonably contemporary examples and second only to Fowler. Follett is more erudite, more complete (not more comprehensive, I grant), and more analytical than the rest. (Yes, Bryan, this means you). For example, compare his treatment of the indefensible "in terms of" to any other.

Someone speaks here of "disagreeing" with Follett's remarks on prescriptivism. Well, if you're not a prescriptivist then you oughtn't be reading usage manuals, and if you are one yet still disagree, you'd better find arguments more persuasive than his.

Another critic says Follett isn't terribly useful as a quick

how-to guide. Well, true, but the genuine articles never are.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This is a very handy book. Some will have different views of the guidance this book provides, but for the general writer this book can be very helpful. There is an essay in the back: "On Usage, Pedantry, Grammar, and the Orderly Mind". The more you agree with this essay the more you will like this book. And the more you find yourself disagreeing with the essay you will find yourself disliking this book.
It is organized in a way that looks like a dictionary, but you may or may not be using the same word or phrase as the book to find a specific topic. So, there is an Inventory of Main Entries in the front of the book you can quickly scan to find what you are looking for and then turn to that term in the main part of the book.
There is a lot of personal preference in deciding whether you like Fowler or Follett and which edition of either of them you choose. But I think any of them is better than struggling on your own. Even if you disagree with the book's recommendations you will have made a more informed choice. You will find your writing more confident and more clear. Isn't that enough?
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