Modern English abusageBMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7231.357 (Published 05 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:357
- Jeff Aronson, clinical pharmacologist
When Henry Watson Fowler published his Dictionary of Modern English Usage in 1926 he could hardly have foreseen how popular it would become as a source of information about grammar, rhetoric, punctuation, spelling, and other matters related to written and spoken English. The first edition, reprinted many times, was followed by a second, edited by Ernest Gowers in 1965, and a third, edited by Robert Burchfield in 1996.
Apart from the fact that Burchfield chronicles the ways in which our use of language has changed since Fowler and Gowers, his edition differs in one major aspect—it is descriptive rather than prescriptive or proscriptive. Whereas his predecessors told us what we ought to do, Burchfield uses his large corpus of examples to tell us what we actually do. And although he often shows approval …