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The King's English


Prequel to Fowler's "Dictionary of Modern English Usage"
If you liked "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage," you will love "The King's English."
For three generations, a single book dominated the market as the authoritative reference in matters of grammar, style, and usage in the English language: "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage" by H.W. Fowler, first published in 1926, now in its third edition (published 1996). Twenty years earlier, however, Fowler and his younger brother F.G. (their given names were Henry Watson and Francis George) had collaborated on a precursor, "The King's English," first published in 1906 (and which went into its third edition a quarter century later, a few years after the first edition of "A Dictionary" appeared).
This book is every bit as charming and graceful as the later "Dictionary" and, while this earlier work covers fewer topics than "Dictionary," it treats the ones that it does cover with as much thoroughness and skill as "Dictionary"--in some cases with more thoroughness, since the book is structured as part essay, part textbook, and can thus afford more examples and exercises than "Dictionary." The book begins by laying out five "general principles" worthy of Strunk and White (whose masterpiece "The Elements of Style" did not appear until half a century later): "Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance."
The Fowlers expand upon those five "principles," and also treat vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, and other such technical matters in great depth. But amidst these technical chapters they also include a lengthy chapter on "airs and graces," in which they advise the reader about imbuing writing with art.
The Fowlers write with every bit as much elegance, flair, and humor as they advise their readers to use, and their mastery of their subject is unsurpassed. "The King's English" has stood the test of time and, today, a century after its initial publication, it still stands the Fowler brothers with Strunk and White from half a century ago and Bryan Garner of today in the first rank of authors about style and usage in the English language.

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Tags: English, Fowler, blunders, guide, written, would, brothers