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The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (New Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd Ed) 3rd Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198602637
ISBN-10: 0198602634
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For generations, lovers of the English language have turned to trusty copies of Fowler's to settle nagging grammatical questions, or, for true hard-core language junkies, for the sheer fun of reading H. W. Fowler's classic outrage contained in entries on "Hackneyed Phrases" or "Pedantic-Humour Words."

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, the first revision in more than 30 years, has not arrived without controversy. Some language (and Fowler) purists complain that the book is too liberal at times, noting that usage is common as opposed to correct. Those points are debatable, and, indeed, they're what makes the book's nearly 900 pages so interesting to peruse. The currency of the new Fowler's extends to, in the entry on "Vogue Words," such novelties as "couch potato," "flavour of the month," "on a roll," and the notorious "parameter." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

An icon to those who write and think about words, Fowler's has not been updated since 1965. (It was originally published in 1926.) Burchfield, the chief editor of The Oxford English Dictionary and its four-volume supplement, is perhaps the best equipped to tackle this monument. His revision pulls a much-loved and slightly eccentric work out of the charm of the past and into the whirlwind of today's language. In a simple, alphabetical arrangement, the third edition covers grammar, syntax, style, word choice, and advice on usage. Some of the contents have been changed completely: there are explanations of the differences between British and American usage, new pronunciation guidelines, and new entries reflecting the politicizing of speech (sexist language, political correctness). The most famous and endearing aspect of Fowler's, the treatment of the split infinitive, has been rewritten to provide more explanation than wit. Some of the contents have only been updated and clarified, retaining the same examples. For instance, the second edition seeks to define "dead letter" apart from "its Pauline and post-office uses"; the new edition changes this to "apart from its theological and post-office uses"; both use "quill pens, top hats, [and] steam locomotives" as examples of objects that have fallen out of fashion. The result is a work that is different from the original and more useful, but academic libraries will want to keep the first and second editions as well. Other libraries will definitely want to update their copies; this work will be a standard in the field for years to come.?Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., Va.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Fowler's Modern English Usage
  • Hardcover: 1010 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 3 edition (April 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198602634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198602637
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 2.1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #619,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Unlike the second edition of this venerable classic, this, the third, is thoroughly revised and brought up to date by R. W. Burchfield whose distinguished credentials include having been the Chief Editor of the Oxford English dictionaries from 1971 to 1984 and an editor of the Cambridge History of the English Language. The problem is that in doing so he has greatly lessened the prescriptive intent of Mr. Fowler and offended many readers.

Let's begin with the Preface in which he has the temerity of damning H.W. Fowler himself with faint praise and something close to dismissal. Burchfield asks: "Why has this schoolmasterly, quixotic, idiosyncratic, and somewhat vulnerable book...retained its hold on the imagination of all but professional linguistic scholars for just on seventy years?" (p. ix) One gets the sense that Burchfield is going to straighten matters out forthwith. He adds, "Fowler's name remains on the title-page, even though his book has been largely rewritten..." In the next sentence he refers to Fowler's book as a "masterpiece," but adds that "it is a fossil all the same" while intimating that its scholarly scope did not extend beyond "the southern counties of England in the first quarter of the twentieth century." (p. xi)

From there we go to the entries themselves and find on page one that the suffix "-a" is now

being printed more and more to present the sound that replaces "of" in rapid (esp. demotic) speech, as in "kinda" (=kind of), loadsa, sorta.

The problem with this is there is no acknowledgment that such usage, especially in written English, is substandard. Even in the entry on "demotic English," Burchfield merely notes that such formulations as "gotta," "shoulda," etc. are becoming more common.
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Format: Hardcover
Fowler's Modern English Usage has served for nearly 80 years as the indispensable guide to anyone who wants to write clear and vigorous English. Nonetheless, 80 years is a long time to retain the word "modern" in the title of a book, and clearly the examples from newspapers of the first quarter of the 20th century have lost most of their currency, and even the examples from the literature of Fowler's period have aged as well. Clearly, therefore, some modernization was needed. This was partially achieved in the 2nd edition, edited by Ernest Gowers in 1965: Gowers did away with much of Fowler's idiosyncratic arrangement of his material, but he left most of the writing unchanged. Anyway, 1965 is also a long time ago, and much has changed since then.

A thorough rewriting was therefore probably needed, and there is much to admire in Burchfield's 3rd edition. If Fowler's book had never existed, and Burchfield's were the first of its kind, one might even praise it as an excellent reference. Unfortunately for Burchfield, however, Fowler's book did precede it, and it is impossible to read Burchfield on any topic without missing Fowler's way of handling the same topic. You may not agree with every opinion that Fowler expressed, but he never left you in any doubt about what he thought and why he thought it. Burchfield emerges as a wishy-washy committee man by comparison. Before undertaking the 3rd edition he was known for his excellent work on the Oxford English Dictionary, but compiling a dictionary is a very different business from writing a continuous piece of prose, and it is not obvious that skill in the one implies skill in the other. Gowers, incidentally, was known before he undertook the 2nd edition for his own books about clear writing.
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Format: Hardcover
Fans of Fowler will be greatly disappointed by this book, which seems to include nothing written by Fowler, but displays his name in large letters on the spine and cover. Burchfield admits in the preface that he does not understand Fowler's appeal, and does not even like his work: "The mystery remains: why has this schoolmasterly, quixotic, idiosyncratic, and somewhat vulnerable book, in a form only lightly revised once, in 1965, by Ernest Gowers, retained its hold on the imagination of all but professional linguistic scholars for just on seventy years?" The answer to this question, I think, can be found in the how Burchfield and Fowler advise the reader on whether to put the period inside or outside of quotation marks. Burchfield begins with a wimpy "each system has its own merit", and proceeds to an absolute rule: Quotation marks "must be placed according to the sense". Even Garner (A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, a far better book for American readers), who has great praise for Fowler, simply sets out conventional American and British usage. Only Fowler provides an analytical structure ("There are two schools of thought, which might be called the conventional and the logical") and then through clear thinking and perceptive example persuades us that "The conventional system flouts common sense, and it is not easy for the plain man to see what merit it is supposed to have to outweigh that defect". Persuasion is the element that Burchfield and other writers lack.Read more ›
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