Books on usage

by Mark Israel
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
The best survey of the history of usage disputes and how
they correlate with actual usage is Webster's Dictionary of English
Usage, Merriam-Webster, 1989 (WDEU -- recently reprinted as
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, ISBN
   Among conservative prescriptivists, the most highly respected
usage book is the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, by H. W.
Fowler -- 1st edition, 1926 (MEU); a facsimile of the original
edition was published by Wordsworth Reference in 1994 (ISBN
1-85326-318-4).  The 2nd edition (MEU2), revised by Sir Ernest
Gowers (Oxford University Press, 1965, ISBN 0-19-281389-7) is
generally respected, although not idolized, by Fowler's devotees.
A "third edition", The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (MEU3),
by Robert Burchfield (who edited the OED supplement), appeared in
1996 after a long wait (Oxford University Press, ISBN
0-19-869126-2).  It retains virtually none of Fowler's original
text, is a sharp philosophical departure from Fowler, and has
many errors, although it does contain some information not to be
found elsewhere.  Oxford University Press has announced that it
will keep MEU2 in print as a paperback.  (What was initially
announced as an independent revision of MEU by the late Sir Kingsley
Amis has turned out to be "not a revision of Fowler in any way, but
rather a from-scratch usage book of the discursive-paragraph sort":
The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage, HarperCollins, 1997,
ISBN 0-00-255681-2).
   The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White
(Macmillan, 3rd ed. 1979, ISBN 0-02-418190-0) and Wilson Follett's
Modern American Usage (Hill and Wang, 1966, ISBN 0-8090-0139-X)
have their partisans here, although they aren't as *widely*
respected as Fowler.
   Liberals most often refer to the Dictionary of Contemporary
American Usage, by Bergen Evans and Cornelia Evans (Random House,
1957, ISBN 0-8022-0973-4  -- out of print).
     [For reviews of other books on English usage, see Michael 
     Quinion's World Wide Words site.]