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The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage Hardcover – 1998
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From Library Journal
Praised as a superb prose stylist, British writer Amis, who died in 1995, was nonetheless controversial, variously labeled a Communist, Thatcher conservative, alcoholic, misogynist, and philander. Even in The King's English, an entertaining manual that is hardly meant to be exhaustive, Amis's wit and candid opinion prevail. Anyone wishing to distinguish between the words belly and stomach (don't even consider tummy) or feeling particular angst over the crossed 7, the disappearance of Latin, and the use of such popular expressions as in-depth, in terms of, or whatever will find a discerning explanation. For insight into Amis's life and work, readers can turn to the authorized biography by Jacobs, a Fleet Street journalist and broadcaster. Amis wrote 24 novels, including the acclaimed Lucky Jim, plus several works of poetry and nonfiction. Focusing on the novels, Jacobs deftly reveals a man who is not always admirable or likable but is certainly intriguing. Recommended for literary collections.ARobert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A delightfully arch, irreverent handbook for those who dare to speak or write the Kings EnglishKingsley Amiss English, that is. The late author, who earned his reputation as one of the Angry Young Men of British literature in the 1950s, apparently reserved his greatest ire for those who misused language. To do so willfully in print was an indication of bad judgment, to do so unwittingly in conversation was mere stupidity. In an effort to curtail the abuse of the Kings own (and to launch an attack on creeping Americanisms, such as the use of advocate and progress as verbs), Amis wrote a guide to modern usage that isnt. But it is a gleeful intellectual stomp through malapropisms, false unions, split infinitives, danglers, floaters, berks, and wankers. Think of it as a twisted Strunk & White for the English middle class, to which the London-born, Cambridge-educated Amis certainly belonged. But he was no avatar of class-consciousnessin fact, just the opposite. He deplored the excessive use of French and discouraged affected pronunciation. Anglicized French words, like hors doeuvres, for example, were to be pronounced with robust disregard for accuracy. Seen from an American angle, Amiss book provides a highly entertaining glimpse into the social implications of speech in Britainwhere accent so influences public imageas well as Amiss own stylistic consciousness, which permeates this text. (Who else would devote a lengthy entry to Pronunciation: he-she?) But Amiss handbook has a serious undercurrent, as well, no matter how dry the authors wit. I am sustained, he wrote, by reflecting that the defense of language is too large a matter to be left to the properly qualified. Although useless as a guide to the English language, Amiss book functions as a droll literary tract and a reminder that the price of a good style, like that of other desirable things, is eternal vigilance. (Eric Jacobs's biography of Amis is also to be published in June. See p. 634.) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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It's not the kind of book that you pick up and read from beginning to end. I have it near my recliner and whenever a television program is interrupted by a commercial ad for male enhancement products, I pick it up and browse at random. often smiling, sometimes chuckling, at his candor.
My own use of English is based on what I learned in school, which was in turn based on Noah Webster's idiosyncrasies. I have no idea why Webster decided that "four-head" is a better rendering of anatomy than the English "forrid." But it doesn't matter much. Amis' ire is directed more at "posh" expressions than Americanisms. The author would approve, by the way, of "Amis'" for the possessive, instead of "Amis's."
At the end of the day -- and there's a phrase that would turn him pale green -- we have to ask, "What is the book all about?" At that, he'd turn a bright chartreuse. Here's what he has to say about "What x is all about," as in "What's it all about, Alfie?"
"It seems important not to spend a moment more than strictly necessary in denouncing this fearful gobbet of trend. Anybody who speaks or writes to the effect that anything is what anything, anything at all from aardvarks to zymotics, is ABOUT, especially ALL ABOUT, deserves exclusion from the ways and habitations of mankind forthwith and without possibility of remission in the foreseeable future."
Not all his decrees are quite as definite, and I've had to use capitals instead of his italics, but you get the general flavor.
He has nothing to say about flavor/flavour, so I think I'm safe.
The book is a true delight, and any Kingsley Amis fan will smile a lot while reading it – and also learn a great deal about the language that Amis loved so much. I have about 10 books that never leaves my desk – this is one of them.
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