- Hardcover: 622 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (July 15, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521847109
- ISBN-13: 978-0521847100
- ASIN: 052162181X
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.8 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,366,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Cambridge Guide to English Usage 1st Edition
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The wry observation attributed to George Bernard Shaw that "England and America are two countries divided by a common language" finds support in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Author Peters, of Macquarie University in Australia, provides evidence that their common language also divides Canada and Australia from the other countries.
Within the A-Z arrangement of brief, to-the-point articles, entries on catalogue and catalog, dived and dove, fitted and fit, freshman and fresher, titbit and tidbit celebrate transatlantic differences, some rather subtle, others more pointed. Peters draws on a range of authorities for her judgments on usage. Those include large databases, such as the 140-million-word Cambridge International Corpus of American English, and other usage guides from throughout the English-speaking world. In line with the most recent of these other handbooks, as well as the irrefutable evidence of present usage, Peters takes a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach. Her analytical discussions of parts of speech, grammatical concepts and constructs, and the like explain the origins of rules but also provide contemporary and historical examples of how usage tempers some rules.
Like other manuals that explain the difference between a monologue and a soliloquy, the lack of meaningful difference between further and farther, the confused state between inquire and enquire, the divergence of salutary and salutatory from their common root, and recent introductions such as emoticons, Cambridge provides sound advice for those who want to understand the English language and use it effectively. More than other manuals, it describes the way in which some usages have a local habitation rather than global recognition.
Considering the abundance of peculiarities and challenges in English usage, Cambridge will strengthen even a library well stocked with other guides. It is a serious book for those serious about language. Those who also enjoy the playfulness of English will continue to appreciate the complementary Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style (Penguin, 2000) and its sometimes witty examples. REVWR
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"This should be on every library's reference desk. This is a most invaluable work, indeed." GEOLINGUISTICS Vol. 30, Leonard R. N. Ashley
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In my view, the use of empirical analysis following a detailed and extensive study of actual usage, is in my view a strength, not a weakness. A huge amount of research went into this book, from what I have heard of its origins: it was not a matter of "googling illiterate ephemera". For example, it often refers to the official style guides used as references, in different countries.
I also appreciate that the entries are arranged alphabetically, as that supports its use as a quick reference when trying to resolve a question about a point of English usage.
And I quite agree with the reviewer who found the text far more usable than Fowler. It has also been updated based on modern usage. This book seems to me very well informed regarding what technically correct English usage is (in certain countries), while tempering that with the pragmatic understanding that English is a living and evolving language, so that if different usages become common and accepted in different countries, then that is a simple observable fact. One of the things I find particularly valuable is using it to identify difference in usage across English speaking countries, so I can adjust my writing appropriately.
I own a print copy, not the ebook, but I trust that the text would be the same.
Sometimes I think that in the 21st century we should retreat a little to the looser rules of earlier centuries. Do we really have to agonize so much over how best to spell import-words like felafel or taboulie? One nice thing about the book, however, is its consideration of international trends in English and its attempt to bridge between them.
For the most part a dictionary of random selection and noncommittal commentary on the various mutations and mutilations of English usage, scrupulously empirical to the point of uselessness, with bizarre normative interludes: on "Introductions," for example, the little lecture begins insipidly thus, "First impressions are as important in writing as they are in spoken encounters." Zzzz. I got this used for $10 and will be throwing it away -- thanks to the flabby writing, it takes up a lot of space for what little insight into English its Google trawling of illiterate ephemera offer. The best thing this sloppy waste will do for your usage is make you appreciate, and return to enjoy again, Fowler, Strunk and White, and those other relics of a time when good writers on usage provided real guidance.
By the way, the book does mention "hoi polloi," but only in a note on Greek plurals, silent on the increasingly common error mocked in this review's title. This is the classic example of a usage error that offends literate ears, something good writers who may not have the Greek surely want to prevent. To bring up this phrase in a "guide" to English usage without mentioning the degenerate version exemplifies the book's lack of focus and priorities.