- Hardcover: 978 pages
- Publisher: Merriam Webster; Reprint edition (November 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0877791325
- ISBN-13: 978-0877791324
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 2 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage Reprint Edition
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For more than 150 years, in print and now online, Merriam-Webster has been America's leading and most-trusted provider of language information. All Merriam-Webster products and services are backed by the largest team of professional dictionary editors and writers in America, and one of the largest in the world.
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The key point is this: to understand the MWDEU, you have to approach the book as an fully rational adult capable of making your own decisions about what constitutes good or sloppy usage. Rest assured that the book will give you the entire history of a word, including every usage considered a "mistake" by other prescriptivist alternatives. But the evidence supplied in this book is unparalleled in any other quick reference you can find, and after supplying this voluminous information, the MWDEU will leave the final decision to you, with the implicit assumption that you are capable of using your own language judgment to come to whatever usage conclusions best suit your own unique writing style.
This is vastly different from the approach of other manuals, which speak with an authoritative tone reminiscent of your middle-school English teacher. But if you are working under strict deadlines and have little time to consult the evidence personally, then you will likely find the MWDEU frustrating. In this case, you might be better off choosing a more prescriptivist guide so that you can rely on the authority of others.
Just be aware that the MWDEU has put the most work into researching its topics, and thus has the best usage information of any book on the market. This means the reviewer who claimed: "The moral is that usage is a pesky, pedantic thing best ignored in favor of saying whatever feels good" is simply incorrect. The MWDEU does not believe usage is "pesky", else they wouldn't have written a usage book. The difference is that this book doesn't give empty opinions; it presents the actual evidence from notable writers and speakers, and it allows its readers to weigh the options themselves.
And when the evidence dictates, they do not fail to mention a strict preference, e.g. their entry on "contemptuous". If you read their detailed history of the word, you realize that 300-500 years ago "contemptible" and "contemptuous" did not have distinct meanings. They were used interchangeably by Shakespeare, for instance. But over the last couple hundred years, based on the need of speakers and writers to be clear, a distinction has been drawn between the two words, and regardless of the history, they conclude at the end: "We are therefore joining the ranks of the cautious in advising you to keep contemptible and contemptuous distinct". Such is their superbly professional method to reach solutions about usage issues.
For those of us who are no longer in school and tire quickly of pedantic lectures from overbearing instructors, this difference in tone is a welcome change, especially given the outright condescension found in so many other usage manuals. Perhaps it is not for everyone, but the MWDEU is indisputably the best researched and most accurate book out there, and for people willing to invest their own critical thinking skills, it simply has no substitute.
It is the bible of the descriptivist faction in the unending skirmishes over modern American grammar, diction and usage.
To complement this volume, you should also have a copy of the prescriptivist bible: "Garner's Modern American Usage."
Between them, they will keep you reliably informed on the language as it is actually being used and on the language as it is viewed by those who are well- (and sometimes over-) educated.
Those who criticize this book for what they perceive as its anything-goes advice do not understand its purpose. They might be better served by buying only the Garner book and steering clear of this one.