Continuing the description of books on words listed in the introductory post, which you’ll find here.
Book 15. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, subtitled, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage:
Hardback, 725 pages, plus 20 blanks for notes. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1926; my version is the second edition, reprinted with corrections in 1980 and I bought it new for a price I don’t now recall. You can probably obtain a used copy if you look around your local second-hand bookshop. But there’s a current version, a fourth edition, edited by Jeremy Butterfield, running to 928 pages and costing just £15.94 in hardback.
I bought this seminal book because I like to get things right. And, having consulted it relatively frequently, I’ve acquired the confidence to break some set rules, once I’ve understood them. The book begins with a short introductory guide that explains usage; word formation, inflexion, and spelling; word beginnings; word endings; plural formations; and pronunciation, followed by a list of abbreviations and symbols used in the articles that follow. The rest of the book consists, in common with all dictionaries, of articles given in alphabetical order, beginning with usage for the indefinite article ‘a’ and ending with a short piece on ‘z’ and ‘zz’ as a word ending.
Opening randomly, at pages 358/359, I can give you a flavour of its contents and style. Page 358 begins with a continuation of an article dealing with the usage of ‘membership, leadership.’, so I’ll begin my example with the first complete article:
‘memorandum. Pl. -da or, less usually, -ums. The commercial abbreviation memo, often pronounced mȇmo, is best left unspoken.
mendacity, mendicity. The first is the conduct of a liar, the second that of a beggar. See PAIRS AND SNARES.’
And this page’s entries continue with, -ment, mentality, Mephistopheles, mercy, and mesembryanthemum. Page 359 continues the alphabetical entries with metal, mettle, and metamorphosis and then begins an article on metaphor, which continues over the next three and a half pages, giving examples of the usage and varieties of this fascinating and useful figure of speech.
This is a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone who loves the English language.
English is a complex language, made up of words from many countries, and borrows rules of grammar, punctuation and even style from those originating lands, which makes it interestingly familiar to learners but also frequently frustratingly baffling to the same students.