Jeremy Butterfield Editorial

Making words work for you

Fowler’s Modern English Usage

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage is the world-famous guide to English usage,
loved and used by writers, editors, and anyone who values correct English since it first appeared in 1926.

The edited 4th edition of this, the most trusted and respected English usage guide, has now been published worldwide, and has had its first reprint.

Fowler's cover (2)

A brand-new edition

I reviewed every entry and revised where necessary to make sure that entries reflect current English and concerns about contemporary usage. As the OUP website says:
Now enlarged and completely revised to reflect English usage in the 21st century, it provides a crystal-clear, authoritative picture of the English we use, while illuminating scores of usage questions old and new.”

In particular, I aimed to make the tone of voice less formal and more approachable and friendly; and to help users quickly grasp what the issues for each headword were.

Some reviews & comments

“… the new Fowler is worth consulting even by writers who think they know the language well. Butterfield has created a guide that is readable for entertainment as well as enlightenment.”

Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

“I’ve been having a lovely time splashing about in the new Fowler.”

Dot Wordsworth, The Spectator

“Anent [Scots for ‘in respect of, regarding’] which, I must congratulate Jeremy Butterfield, editor of the latest edition of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. To wordsmiths such as myself, Fowler’s is akin to the Koran or the Bible. Rarely a day goes by without me dipping into it. I like to open it at random and, no matter how stressed I feel, I find its sage advice calming and reassuring.”

Alan Taylor, The Herald (Scotland)

“‘Is that good English?’
Century after century, people ask this and publishers sell books to answer them. A lot of these books are terrible but some are linguistic treasure troves. A lot of them sink without trace but some endure for decades.

This is one of the good ones.
[…]
Many of the explanations are better. Butterfield is more likely than Burchfield to begin a section with a short statement of the issue and not just launch into the discussion of it, and he’s more likely to state what a list of examples illustrates and not leave it to the reader to figure out.”

Tom Freeman, Stroppy Editor

How did I revise it? And what’s new?

To help me make my judgements, I drew on Oxford’s unrivalled dictionary research and language monitoring, as well as the gigantic and unique database of modern, international English, the Oxford English Corpus. I also looked at other corpora, such as the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Such investigations and related research enabled me to provide advice on thousands of issues of grammar, style, spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary.

Typical, current-day issues discussed include:

  • Why literally shouldn’t be taken literally.
  • Why Americans think home in on something is a mistake and Brits think hone in is.
  • Is it OK to spell OK okay?
  • What’s wrong with hence why?
  • Was Alanis Morrisette ever ironic?
  • When is it wrong to use whom?
  • How do you punctuate bullet points?
  • How do you write eBay at the beginning of a sentence?
  • Do the people who claim to be veracious readers really know what they’re saying?
  • What are eggcorns, and why do linguists love them?

(And here’s a little “ironic” joke, courtesy of tweeter @Diversion50)

[Scene: A Restaurant]

Maître d’: Sincere apologies, Ms Morissette, we’re fully booked.

Alanis: Isn’t it ironic?

Maître d’: Eh, No? No, it’s not.


New entries include:

  • achingly
  • ageism
  • angsty
  • at this moment in time
  • blog
  • bullet points
  • challenging
  • chocoholic
  • dominatrix
  • double whammy
  • joined-up
  • level playing field

and scores more.

Does it deal only with British English?

Far from it. The book is international in scope, providing in-depth coverage of both British and American English usage, while referring also to the Englishes of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa.

One of the joys for me as editor were the thousands of authentic examples that vividly demonstrate how modern writers tackle debated usage issues. These examples are culled on the one hand from literary figures such as Chinua Achebe, Peter Ackroyd, Raymond Carver, Iris Murdoch, Harold Pinter, Vikram Seth, and dozens of others.

On the other hand, they are drawn from a vast range of newspapers, journals, books, broadcast material, websites, and other digital sources from across the globe. Some even include references to topical personalities such as Stephen Fry, Prince Harry, Jeremy Paxman, and Wayne Rooney.

Who is it aimed at?

Everyone who needs authoritative, comprehensive, and reasoned guidance on questions of English usage: journalists, broadcasters, authors, academics, high-level English teachers, English-language learners, philologists, editors, and general readers with an interest in the correct usage of English.

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2 thoughts on “Fowler’s Modern English Usage

  1. I’m awed by your achievements, Jeremy, which are MOST impressive – but why do you use ‘the Oxford comma’ when there is no danger of ambiguity??? To me, when this comma simply duplicates the conjunction ‘and’, it’s a wasted device, yet the comma has so many other, genuinely important, uses. (I’m sure I won’t convert you on this point, but, since you won’t convert me either, we’ll have to agree to disagree.) 🙂

    Like

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