Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fowler On Usage

... if idiom and grammar are in conflict, so much the worse for grammar. Thus he was cheerfully lax about “who & whom” and the placement of “only,” and he mocked the pains people go through to avoid ending their sentences with prepositions. When it came to the notorious split infinitive (e.g., “to boldly go where no man . . .”), he observed that those English speakers who neither know nor care about them “are to be envied” by the unhappy few who do.
Jim Holt in The New York Times pays tribute to HW Fowler whose A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (know fondly as just Fowler), first published in 1926, has remained one of the most important guides to the English language for writers. We know the book so well, but what do we know of the man?

And while I'm not the biggest fan of style guides to the language, the extract above shows that Fowler had the common sense to move away from the pedantic reliance on Latin grammar rules that bedeviled other traditional grammarians (and quite a number of people who write into the Star's Mind Your English Column!)

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