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"This wonderfully written work aims to help people use language so they will use the right words to say what they mean. Garner relies on modern sources rather than historical precedent to determine the current, correct usage. He even advises writers about which words to avoid altogether. Each of the approximately 7,000 entries provides a definition, discusses the usage of the word, provides illustrative quotations, and gives citations to the references and quotations. This is an entertaining, witty, and unpretentious resource that will always come in handy in the public or academic library."----"Outstanding reference sources 2000", American Libraries, May 2000. Comp. by the Reference Sources Committee, RUSA, ALA.
"Clearly one of the best works on the topic" --Booklist starred review
"Whether taking those first steps on the road to good writing--namely, the avoidance of bad writing--or tending to further details of clarity, style, and organization, the writer-editor, like any artisan, needs guidance from a master. Such guidance is just what Garner's Modern American Usage provides, and lots of it." --Five Towns Jewish Times
"Garner makes grammar fun, and readers will not only find elucidation but also moments of pure delight while browsing these pages. As always, the entries are not only filled with clear lessons about language usage, trends, and problems inherent in misuse, but they are also peppered with cleverly chosen examples of both usage and misusage. [Garner's] book is the best of its kind in that it simply reports the facts in an engaging way; language evolves and usage changes. An invaluable ready-reference tool." School Library Journal
"Garner's book is by far the best on contemporary usage. For language lovers or for those attempting to find out how words are being used today, Garner's Modern American Usage is an indispensable tool." --Technical Communication
a. A. Choice Between a and an. The indefinite article a is used before words beginning with a consonant sound, including /y/ and /w/ sounds. The other form, an, is used before words beginning with a vowel sound. Hence a European country, a Ouija board, a uniform, an FBI agent, an MBA degree, an SEC filing.
The distinction between a and an was not solidified until the 19th century. Up to that time, an preceded most words beginning with a vowel, regardless of how the first syllable sounded. The U.S. Constitution, for example, reads: "The Congress shall have Power ... [t]o establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization...." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8. But that is no excuse for a late-20th-century writer: "The revisions include ... [f]iling legislation to create an uniform [read a uniform] inspection code." Doris Sue Wong, "Revisions to Title 5 Unveiled," Boston Globe, 2 Aug. 1995, at 25.
Writers on usage formerly disputed whether the correct article is a or an with historian, historic, and a few other words. The traditional rule is that if the h- is sounded, a is the proper form. Most people following that rule would say a historian and a historic—e.g.: "Democrat Bill Clinton appears within reach of capturing the White House in Tuesday's election, but Republicans hope that late momentum can enable President Bush to win a historic upset." Carl P. Leubsdorf, "Bush Hopes for Late Surge,"Dallas Morning News, 1 Nov. 1992, at 1A. Even H.W. Fowler, in the England of 1926, advocated a before historic(al) and humble (MEU1 at 1).
The theory behind using an in such a context, however, is that the h- is very weak when the accent is on the second rather than the first syllable (giving rise, by analogy, to an habitual offender, an humanitarian, an hallucinatory image, and an harassed school-teacher). Thus no authority countenances an history, though a few older ones prefer an historian and an historical.
Today, however, an hypothesis and an historical are likely to strike readers and listeners as affectations. As Mark Twain once wrote, referring to humble, heroic, and historical: "Correct writers of the American language do not put an before those words." The Stolen White Elephant 220 (1882). Anyone who sounds the h- in such words should avoid pretense and use a. An humanitarian is, judged even by the most tolerant standards, a pretentious humanitarian. See herb & humble.
B. In Distributive Senses. A, in the distributive sense <ten hours a day>, has traditionally been considered preferable to per, which originated in COMMERCIALESE and LEGALESE. But per has muscled its way into idiomatic English in phrases such as 60 miles per hour, one golf cart per couple, and five books per student. Although an could be substituted for per in the first of those phrases, a wouldn't work well in the second or third.
When the construction requires a PHRASAL ADJECTIVE, per is the only idiomatic word—e.g.: "Our per-unit cost is less than $1,000."/ "The $50-per-parent fee seems unreasonably high."
abandon, vb. See desert.
abandonment; abandon, n. The usual idiom is wild abandon or reckless abandon, not abandonment. The SOED dates the noun abandon (= surrender to natural impulses; freedom from constraint or convention) from the early 19th century. But it records abandonment as sharing this sense from the mid-19th century. Still, abandon is such a preponderant idiom that the two terms ought to be distinguished. In the following sentences, abandon would better accord with modern usage:
* "One worrisome puzzlement: How can my countrymen celebrate in such wild abandonment [read abandon] on the carnage of so many helpless children and the thousands that are disease-ridden and dying every hour?" Ledelle Tompkins, "What Is There to Celebrate in Operation Desert Storm?" Ariz. Republic, 3 July 1991, at A18.
* "By the cocktail hour we feel like kids again, munching canapes with wild abandonment [read abandon] and gulping down our favorite libations." Nancy McIntyre, "Body's Nightly Organ Recitals Drown Out Harmony of Sleep," Ariz. Republic, 12 Mar. 1993, at B11.
* "Like a ventriloquist, the President put these words in the mouth of Dr. King: `... I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandonment [read abandon].'" H. Bruce Franklin, "What King Really Would Have Said," Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 Dec. 1993, at A17.
abbreviable. So formed—not abbreviatable. See -ATABLE.
Abbreviations. A. Acronyms and Initialisms. Five points merit our attention here. First, we should be aware of the difference between the two types of abbreviated names. An acronym is made from the first letters or parts of a compound term. It's usually read or spoken as a single word, not letter by letter (e.g., radar = radio detection and ranging). An initialism is also made from the first letters or parts of a compound term, but it's usually sounded letter by letter, not as one word (e.g., r.p.m. = revolutions per minute).
Second, the question often arises whether to place periods after each letter in an acronym or initialism. Searching for consistency on this point is futile. The trend nowadays is to omit the periods; including them is the more conservative and traditional approach. Yet surely if an acronym is spoken as a single word (e.g., UNESCO), periods are meaningless. If an initialism is made up of lowercase letters, periods are preferable: rpm looks odd as compared with r.p.m., and am (as opposed to a.m.) looks like the verb. One method of determining whether to omit or include periods is to follow the form that the organization itself uses (e.g., IRS, HUD), although inconsistencies are common. (For an anomalous abbreviation, see ID.)
Third, the best practice is to give the reader some warning of an uncommon acronym by spelling out the words and enclosing the acronym in parentheses when the term is first used. A reference to CARPE Rules may confuse a reader who does not at first realize that three or four lines above this acronym, the writer has made reference to a Committee on Academic Rights, Privileges, and Ethics.
Fourth, in AmE the tendency is to uppercase all the characters (e.g., GAAP, MADD, NASA). But in BrE, the tendency is to uppercase only the first letter, as in Ifor in this example: "More recently, U.S. officials have acknowledged that a few U.S. troops will be needed early next year because the U.S.-led Implementation Force (Ifor) will not be able to pull all its armour out in time." Laura Silber & Bruce Clark, "U.S. Pledges Continued Troop Support in Bosnia," Fin. Times, 13 June 1996, at 12.
Finally, as illustrated under (C), the use in a single text of too many abbreviated forms leads to dense and frustrating prose.
B. Redundant Acronyms. Some acronyms often appear as part of a two-word phrase, in which the second word is also what one of the acronym's letters stands for. Thus, a bank customer withdraws cash from an ATM machine, using a PIN number as a password. A supermarket clerk searches a milk carton for its UPC code. High-school seniors study hard for the SAT test. Economists monitor the CPI Index. American and Russian diplomats sit down to negotiate at the SALT talks. And scientists try to unlock the mysteries of the deadly HIV virus.
The problem with these phrases, of course, is that they are technically redundant (automated-teller machine machine, personal-identification number number, Universal Product Code code, Scholastic Aptitude Test test, Consumer Price Index Index, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks talks, and human-immunodeficiency virus virus). And while the redundancies may be passable in speech—especially with unfamiliar acronyms—they should be avoided in edited writing.
For a different type of redundant acronym, see RSVP.
C. Initialese. One of the most irritating types of pedantry in modern writing is the overuse of abbreviations, especially abbreviated names. Originally, to be sure, abbreviations were intended to serve the convenience of the reader by shortening names so that cumbersome phrases would not have to be repeated in their entirety. The purported simplifications actually simplified. But many writers—especially technical writers—seem to have lost sight of this goal: they allow abbreviated terms to proliferate, and their prose quickly becomes a hybrid-English system of hieroglyphs requiring the reader to refer constantly to the original uses of terms to grasp the meaning. This kind of writing might be thought more scholarly than ordinary, straightforward prose. It isn't. Rather, it's tiresome and inconsiderate writing; it betrays the writer's thoughtlessness toward the reader and a puerile fascination with the insubstantial trappings of scholarship.
Three examples suffice to illustrate the malady:
* "As a comparison to these item-level indices, the factor-level indices IFS and C_ANR [sic] were both computed for the maximum likelihood factors.... Compression of the factor space tends to decrease both IFS and C_ANR, while excessive expansion is likely to also decrease the C_ANR, while the IFS might be expected to be reasonably stable. Thus, four rotation solutions were computed based upon Matthews & Stanton's (1994) extraction of 21 factors, the Velicer MAP test indicator of 26 (PCA) and 28 (image) factors, and Autoscree indicators of 17 and 21 factors for PCA and image respectively. From these solutions, it was hypothesized that a full 31 factor rotation might provide the optimal C_ANR parameters for the OPQ scales. Further, as a by-product of the use of MLFA, it is possible to compute a test...." P. Barrett et al., "An Evaluation of the Psychometric Properties of the Concept 5.2 Occupational Personality Questionnaire," 69 J. Occupational & Organizational Psychology 1, 12 (1996).
* "For the initial model, the significant variable TRANS is only significantly correlated with SUBNO. SUBCTY is correlated with NI, with SUBNO, and with FSALEPER. NI, however, is significantly correlated with: (1) DOMVIN; (2) METH1; and (3) METH3. In the reduced model, these intercorrelations with NI are not an area for concern...." Karen S. Cravens & Winston T. Shearon, Jr., "An Outcome-Based Assessment of International Transfer Pricing Policy," 31 Int'l J. Accounting 419, 436 (1996) (parentheticals omitted).
* "SLIP, like VALP and ECC, is a defeasible constraint that is obeyed by all the types of head-nexus phrase considered thus far. It guarantees that (except in SLASH-binding contexts that we turn to in a moment) the SLASH value of a phrase is the SLASH value of its head-daughter." Ivan A. Sag, "English Relative Clause Constructions," 33 J. Linguistics 431, 446 (1997).
And so it goes throughout each article.
In naming something new, one's task is sometimes hopeless: the choice is clear between ALI-ABA CLE Review and American Law Institute-American Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Review, but one cannot choose either enthusiastically. Both sponsors must have their due (in part so that they can have their dues), and the acronyms might gradually become familiar to readers. But they aren't ideal because they give bad first impressions.
Remember that effective communication takes two—the writer and the reader. Arthur Quiller-Couch reminded writers never to forget the audience:
[T]he obligation of courtesy rests first with the author, who invites the seance, and commonly charges for it. What follows, but that in speaking or writing we have an obligation to put ourselves into the hearer's or reader's place? It is his comfort, his convenience, we have to consult. To express ourselves is a very small part of the business: very small and unimportant as compared with impressing ourselves: the aim of the whole process being to persuade.
Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing
291-92 (2d ed. 1943).
Abbreviations are often conveniences for writers but inconveniences for readers. Whenever that is so, they should vanish.
abdomen is most commonly pronounced de-mean/, though some people continue to the old-fashioned/ab-doh-men/.
aberrant, adj.; aberrational; aberrative. These terms appear in order of descending frequency. Aberrant/a-be-rent/ = deviating from behavioral or social norms. Aberrational /a-be-ray-she-nel/ = of or pertaining to an aberration. Aberrative /e-ber-e-tiv/ = tending toward aberration.
aberration; aberrance; aberrancy; aberrant, n. Aberrant, almost always used reference to persons, means "a deviant; deviating from an established norm." ITL [Aberration which is not limited to persons, means (1) "a deviation or departure from what is normal or correct"; or (2) "a mental derangement Aberrance and aberrancy are NEEDLESS VARIANTS of aberration.
abettor; abetter. In both AmE and BrE abettor is the more usual spelling. See -ER (A). Cf. bettor.
abide. A. General Senses.] BLD Abide = (1) to stay <the right of entering and abiding in state in the Union>; (2) to tolerate, withstand <we won't abide that type of misconduct> to obey (construed with by) <we abided by rules>; (4) to await <our decision must a the outcome of this struggle>; or (5) to form or execute (in reference to court orders or judgments) <the lower courts must a the judgments of the Supreme Court>.
B. Past-Tense and Past-Participial Forms. In two senses ("await" and "execute"). abided is the preferred past tense and participle. In the archaic sense "to stay, dwell," abode is the preferred past tense, either abode or abided is the past participle. For most ordinary purposes, abided serves well without seeming stilted.
ability; capacity. The traditional distinction is that while ability is qualitative, ITL [capacity] ITL is quantitative. Hence, ability refers to a person's power of body or mind < writer of great a ability>; capacity, meaning literally "roomy, spacious," refers figuratively to a person's physical or mental power to receive <her memory has an extraordinary capacity for details>
For the distinction between capacity and capability see capacity.
abjection; abjectness. The subtle difference between these two is that abjection refers to the condition, abjectness to the state of mind. E.g.: "How does one feel to return to Germany or Austria and see the high standard of living in these countries while remembering the absolute abjection experienced by the victims?" Elliot Welles, "A Painful, Vital Memory," Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 3 Feb. 1995, at 11B./"Hair intact, she would constantly call attention to her classmates' abjectness, perhaps inspiring some male cadet to challenge the headshaving rule on the grounds that it's sexually discriminatory." Ellen Willis, "Ellen Willis," Village Voice, 13 Sept. 1994, at 8. As it happens, the two words occur about equally often.
abjure; adjure. A. Senses Distinguished. Abjure may mean either (1) "to renounce" <Germany abjured the use of force>, or (2) "to avoid" <her evaluation abjured excessive praise>. In bygone days, people were sometimes required to "abjure the realm," i.e., go abroad. Adjure means "to charge or entreat solemnly" <Reagan adjured the Soviets to join him in this noble goal>. See adjure.
B. Cognate Forms. The noun forms are abjuration (or abjurement—now defunct) and adjuration. The adjectival forms end in -tory. The agent nouns are abjurer and adjurer.
-ABLE. A. Choice of -able or -ible. Many adjectives have competing forms ending in -able and -ible. Some of these have undergone DIFFERENTIATION in meaning; the less commonly used forms in some pairs are merely NEEDLESS VARIANTS of the predominant forms. The lists that follow contain the most troublesome words of this class.
Unlike -ible, -able is a living suffix that may be added to virtually any verb without an established suffix in either -able or -ible. Following are only some of the hundreds of adjectives preferably spelled -able:
Although -ible is now dead as a combining form in English, the following words still retain that suffix:
Some adjectives with the variant suffixes have different meanings. Thus impassable means "closed, incapable of being traversed"; its twin, impassible, means "unable to feel pain" or, less distinctively, "impassive, emotionless." Passable and passible have correspondingly positive meanings. (These pairs are formed from different Latin roots, L. passus "having suffered" and L. passare "to step.") Similarly, impartible means "not subject to partition" and impartable "capable of being imparted." Conversable means "oral," while conversible is a NEEDLESS VARIANT of convertible. Forcible means either "done by means of force" <forcible entry> or "characterized by force" <forcible behavior>; forceable, much less frequently encountered, would be the better term to describe a door that is "capable of being forced open." See forcible.
Other variant adjectives, though, are merely duplicative. Typical examples are extendable, extendible, and extensible. The first of these is now prevalent in AmE (though labeled obsolete in the OED). Extensible was, through the mid-20th century, the most common form, but today it trails extendable by a substantial margin, while extendible continues to appear infrequently. Writers and editors ought to settle on the most firmly established form—extendable, which is as well formed as the variants—and trouble their minds with weightier matters. See NEEDLESS VARIANTS, DIFFERENTIATION & MUTE E.
B. Attaching -able to Nouns. This passive suffix is usually attached to verbs, as in avoidable, forgettable, and reproachable. But sometimes it's attached to nouns, as in marriageable, objectionable, and salable. These do not mean "able to be marriaged," "able to be objectioned," and so on. Although marryable and objectable would have been the more logical forms, time, idiom, and usage have made these and several other forms both ineradicable and unobjectionable.
C. Attaching -able to Intransitive Verbs. A few words formerly upset purists: dependable (depend-on-able), indispensable (in-dispense-with-able), laughable (laugh-at-able), reliable (rely-on-able), and unaccountable (un-account-for-able). They're indispensable to the modern writer—not at all laughable. See reliable.
D. Converting -ate Verbs into -able Adjectives. When -able is added to a transitive polysyllabic verb ending in the suffix -ate, that suffix is dropped. Hence, accumulable, calculable, regulable, etc. (See -ATABLE.) Exceptions, however, occur with two-syllable words, such as rebatable and debatable.
E. Dropping or Retaining the Medial -e-. This question arises in words such as irreconcilable, microwavable, movable, resumable, and salable. Although writers formerly put an -e- before -able, both AmE and BrE generally drop such a medial -e-, except in words with a soft -c- (traceable) or a soft -g- (chargeable). See MUTE E.
able to [+ passive-voice vb.]. This construction is rare—and rightly so. A sentence such as That speech is able to be delivered by anyone can always be advantageously revised: Anyone can [or could] deliver that speech. See PASSIVE VOICE.
ablution (= washing), which appears most commonly in the plural form, should generally be reserved for washing or rinsing as part of a religious rite. E.g.: "She said his health is deteriorating, and he can no longer perform the ritual ablutions necessary for prayer without the help of two cellmates." Holger Jensen, "PLO," Rocky Mountain News, 18 Dec. 1994, at 89A. And the word may belong in exotic contexts—e.g.: "Early bathers were already making their morning ablutions [in the Ganges River]." Glenn Leichman, "Season's Greetings—on the Ganges," Seattle Times, 22 Dec. 1996, at K1. But the word is pretentious, or else facetious, when the reference is to the ordinary act of washing one's face and hands—e.g.: "[Insects] seem particularly attracted to the bath and I have to allow extra time for fishing them out with the nail brush before starting my ablutions." Sarah Biffen, "At Home: A Rest?" Daily Telegraph, 1 Dec. 1996, at 15.
aboard. Usually restricted to ships or planes in BrE, this word is applied broadly in AmE to any public conveyance—e.g.: "The bus had about 35 pupils aboard from Varina and Mehfoud Elementary schools." Mark Bowes, "It Was Close to a `Catastrophe,'" Richmond Times-Dispatch, 18 Jan. 1997, at B1.
abode, as past tense of abide. See abide (B).
abode, place of. This phrase is a pretentious way of referring to someone's home or house.
abolition; abolishment. The latter is a NEEDLESS VARIANT. Cf. admonition (B).
aborigine, as a singular noun, is a BACKFORMATION from the plural aborigines (L.aborgigine "from the beginnings"). Traditionally, the word aboriginal was considered the proper singular, but today aborigine is standard English as a singular noun. (Aboriginal is still current in adjectival uses.)
The spelling Aborigine, with the initial capital is traditional when referring to the indigenous peoples of Australia.
abort = (1) (of a pregnancy) to end prematurely, (2) (of a fetus) to cause to be expelled before full development; or (3) (of a pregnant woman) to cause to have an abortion. Senses 1 and 2 are more usual than sense 3, which, as an example of HYPALLAGE, strikes many readers as odd. E.g.: "In a case of 1949, the trial judge sentenced a husband who had tried to abort his wife and killed her to five years' penal servitude...." Glanville Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal 155 (1957).
abortifacient. See contraceptive.
abortive; aborted. Abortive may mean (1) "unsuccessful because cut short," or (2) "inchoate." With sense 1, it takes on the figurative sense of aborted (= cut short), as an abortive attempt, i.e., one cut short. (Note that -ive, an active suffix, here has a passive sense.) E.g.: "In the 50 years after the 1916 rising, an abortive anti-British rebellion, nationalists incorporated the tragedy into their vision of `a heroic struggle against seven centuries of British oppression'...." "Famine, Politics Intertwined," USA Today, 15 Jan. 1997, at 2D. Abortive is archaic in reference to abortions of fetuses, except in the sense "causing an abortion."
about. A. And approximately. When possible, use about instead of approximately, a FORMAL WORD. But about shouldn't appear, as it sometimes does, with other terms of approximation such as estimate and guess, because it means "roughly" or "approximately." E.g.: "[T]heir estimate that there are about [delete about] 110,000 minke whales in the northeastern Atlantic has been accepted by the International Whaling Commission." Mary Williams Walsh, "Whalers Hoping to Regain Acceptance," L.A. Times, 5 Sept. 1997, at A5.
B. And around. When there is a choice between about and around—as in beat around (or about) the bush, strewn around (or about) the garden, or all around (or about) the city— the word around greatly predominates in AmE. In those phrases, about sounds school-marmish.
C. About the head. Theodore M. Bernstein called this phrase "police-blotter lingo" (The Careful Writer at 5) when used in the sense "on" <the victim was pounded several times about the head>. The phrase might still be common in police blotters, but in published print sources it appears only occasionally— e.g.: "[A] Malaysian companion, 15, suffered a punctured eardrum from the interrogator's blows about the head." William Safire, "Singapore Adds Insult to Injury," Star Trib. (Minneapolis), 24 May 1994, at 15A.
D. At about. This phrase is sometimes criticized as a REDUNDANCY, the argument being that about can often do the work by itself. But in many contexts, especially those involving expressions of time, the phrase at about is common, idiomatic, and unimpeachable <we'll arrive at about 9:00 tonight>.
above. A. Meaning "more than" or "longer than." Restrict this usage to informal contexts. "Above [read More than] 600 people attended the reception."/ "Now, the RBI has allowed only the incentive of one percent for one-year deposits, 1.5 percent for two-year deposits and two percent for deposits above two years [read of two years or more or of longer than two years]." "NBFCs Allowed to Reimburse Part of Broker's Expenses," Econ. Times, 3 Oct. 1996, at 8. Cf. over (A).
B. For above-mentioned. Above is an acceptable ellipsis for above-mentioned, and it is much less inelegant <the above statements are his last recorded ones>.
It was long thought that above could not properly act as an adjective. But the word has been so used throughout the 20th century, even by the best writers. The OED records this use from 1873 and says that above "stands attributively," through ellipsis, for above said, above written, above mentioned, or some other phrase.
Some critics have suggested that above in this sense should refer only to something mentioned previously on the same page, but this restriction seems unduly narrow. Still, it's often better to make the reference exact by giving a page or paragraph number, rather than the vague reference made possible by above. Idiom will not, however, allow above to modify all nouns: above vehicle is unidiomatic for vehicle mentioned above. (If you must say mentioned, put above after that word.) Better yet would be the vehicle, if readers will know from the context which one you're talking about.
Less common than the adjectival above is the noun use <the above is entirely accurate>. Pooley's assessment still stands: "Any writer may feel free at any time to use `the above statement,' and with only slightly less assurance, `the above will prove.' In either case, he has the authority of scholars and standard literature." Robert C. Pooley, Teaching English Usage 130 (1946).
abridgable. So spelled—not abridgeable. See MUTE E.
abridgment; abridgement. The first spelling is AmE; the second is BrE. Cf. acknowledgment & judgment.
abrogable. So formed—not abrogatable. See -ATABLE.
|List of Essay Entries,||xix|
|List of Abbreviations,||xxv|
|A Timeline of Books on Usage,||709|
One perennial question emerges when people ask about grammar: "What grammar book do you recommend?" What the person really wants isn't a grammar at all, but a good dictionary of usage. This underappreciated genre has alphabetical listings of all the most common trouble spots in the language. It's partly grammar ("fused participles"), partly word choice ("self-deprecating" vs. "self-depreciating"), and sometimes a mixture of the two ("It's me" vs. "It's I"). There are dozens of essays on subjects as diverse as Airlinese, Jargon, Punctuation, and Subject-Verb Agreement.
The language is shifting under your very tongue in ways that might surprise you. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage is intended to divert and entertain while providing guidance on where to stand if you want to avoid linguistic fault lines. My guidance is a blend of the traditional and the modern. I favor keeping our continuity with the past without letting the language become petrified. And I try to be down-to-earth. So forget "It's I."
How did I get into this?
At the age of 15, I realized that the use of the English language was my main intellectual interest. That being so, David Foster Wallace says in Harper's magazine that I must have been "repeatedly and savagely wedgied" as a teenager. Not so -- though I take his point. Actually, I kept my long forays to the college library a little secret within the family and still lettered in golf, led the high school band as drum major, and acted in school plays. By my junior year, when I had acquired the habit of occasionally using big words ("epizeuxis" and "ignoratio elenchi" were among my favorites), I was too big for the kind of abuse Wallace imagines. It took a few more years for me to outgrow this annoying habit of using big words, but in the meantime I worked assiduously to build my vocabulary.
And I had discovered my favorite literary genre: the dictionary of usage. H. W. Fowler, Wilson Follett, Theodore Bernstein, and Eric Partridge had become my literary heroes. By the time I was ready for college, I had essentially memorized everything that these writers had said about English usage -- in the same way that other kids memorize sports stats or car models. Not just any linguistic facts interested me: They had to be genuinely useful facts. They had to help me (or anyone) write better.
In college, studying liberal arts at the University of Texas, I was drawn to courses on literature, rhetoric, literary criticism, and the history of the English language. My plan was still, as it had been in high school, to become a lawyer and use my rhetorical skills within the law. But my success in publishing articles on Shakespearean language -- and the encouragement of my undergraduate mentors, the Shakespearean specialist John W. Velz and the linguistic historian Thomas Cable -- led me to flirt with pursuing a Ph.D. in English, with a focus on lexicography. I almost went that route.
But no. My fiancée (now my wife), a graduate student in political science, said she was convinced that I was meant to be a lawyer -- not an English professor. I agreed. When law school began, I was immediately struck by how many archaic phrases -- Elizabethan phrases -- were popping up in the judicial decisions I was reading. I went to the library to see what scholars had written about legal language, found very little to my liking, and immediately decided to write a book about legal language. Within the first week of law school, I had named it A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. I wanted it to do for lawyers what H. W. Fowler had done for writers at large.
I ended up founding LawProse, Inc., which provides seminars for lawyers on brief writing and contract drafting. I wrote or edited more books on law and language, most notably The Elements of Legal Style and Black's Law Dictionary. I've now produced four editions of Black's -- the unabridged deluxe, the regular unabridged, the abridged, and the pocket. My whole approach to legal lexicography has been to try to make the law as accessible as possible to everyone -- to persuade lawyers that it's not in their best interests to use highfalutin jargon and gobbledygook. After all, avoiding these bad habits promotes clear thinking.
But my first love is the English language -- not just the legal part of the English language. So when Oxford asked me to write a dictionary of American usage, I was delighted at the prospect of broadening my horizons and dealing with the English language as a whole. Since I was following Fowler's model, I called it A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. The idea was to provide a guide for educated Americans who want an answer to the question, "Can I say this and still have credibility with readers and listeners?" My intended readers, quite simply, are educated people -- students, businesspeople, professors, novelists, nonfiction writers, newscasters, you name it -- who want authoritative guidance on where the language stands today.
"May I split an infinitive?" (Yes, but first you really need to know what one is.) "May I split a verb phrase?" (You'd better: Any other placement is awkward. And grammarians have consistently said -- there's a split!-- this since 1782!) "May I end a sentence with a preposition?" (If you want to. I have a two-page essay on the subject.) "Should I use the serial comma?" (Yes, unless you're a journalist.) On and on the questions go. My rulings -- since I'm playing the role of judge -- add up to a kind of linguistic jurisprudence. Like any judge, I have biases. Mine are in favor of clarity, simplicity, and credibility. (Bryan A. Garner)
Posted February 17, 2010
I'm surprised I dont see this reference book more often. It's completely full of all the nuances in English most people never think twice about (including superlatives!) It's also very easy to follow and it's not difficult locating anything English-related.
This book also requires a lot of self-motivation to absorb, so don't buy it unless you use it as frequently as possible.
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Posted December 14, 2009
This is a must have book for anyone in business. In a world where poor English skills rule the day, this resource can help you rise above the rest in your writing.
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Posted February 10, 2014
this edition will suffice as the most meticulous guide, both synchronic and diachronic, for speakers and writers of american english for the next couple of decades, though with regard to rare minutiae garner may be somewhat too conservative - e.g.the pronunciation for the plural of house is given only as houzis (which i regard as correct) while houses (with the first s as s) seems rapidly replacing the former even among educated speakers as i hear frequently on television. for good examples of garner's approach see the entries under "can," "moot," "farther," as well as details such as use of diacritical marks, sequence of writing dates, formation of plurals, neologisms, foreign words and expressions - the list would be too long to be truly representative - in short garner's approach is thorough, virtually exhaustive, and clear.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 6, 2012
This is a great reference book, and even better as an ebook that you can look at on an iPhone while on the bus, etc. I used it earlier today to argue a grammar point with my boss--and won my argument!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 6, 2009
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Posted June 22, 2009
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Posted October 11, 2009
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Posted March 5, 2009
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Posted July 30, 2009
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Posted February 14, 2010
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Posted September 29, 2012
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