By H. W. Fowler and David Crystal, paperback 832 pages, Oxford University Press, USA, list price: $17.


A newly issued first edition of Henry Watson Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage appeared in 2009, edited by the indefatigable linguist David Crystal. The two are a perfect pair. Fowler is magisterial and funny, opinionated but erudite enough to back up his dictates. The age of the book itself is a joy; it preserves now-whiskery judgments such as his dislike of "a curate's egg" (something euphemized as good in parts but which is in fact thoroughly rotten.) This along with others is listed under the headword "hackneyed phrases." Crystal is a sure-handed interpreter. Though he holds Fowler in high esteem, he nonetheless puts his quirks and occasional misguided peeves in perspective. Most of Fowler's guidance is still strong and can be taken as is. Where it can't, Crystal will help you understand how even the greatest sages of English usage can be wrong.

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