The Assassination of Henry Fowler
by the Coward Robert Burchfield

In 1909, a year after the publication of the popular second edition of The King's English, the classic reference work of H.W. and F.G. Fowler, the first author wrote to his publisher with a proposal for a sequel: *
Another scheme that has attractions is that of an idiom dictionary— that is, one that would give only such words as are in sufficiently general use to have acquired numerous senses or constructions and consequently to be liable to misuse .... *
A century later, Fowler's monumental Dictionary of Modern English Usage (MEU, 1926) remains the standard by which all works of its genre are judged.

MEU was not the first systematic treatment of errors in English usage. Half a century earlier, Dean Henry Alford's manual of usage and idiom, The Queen's English (1864), exposed (some would say exemplified) the decadence of popular usage in his time. Of particular concern to Alford was "the deterioration which our Queen's English has undergone at the hands of the Americans." But it was the American Alfred Ayres who produced the first alphabetized usage dictionary, The Verbalist (1882), bearing the subtitle "A Manual Devoted to Brief Discussions of the Right and Wrong Use of Words and to Some Other Matters of Interest to Those Who Would Speak and Write with Propriety". Another American, Ambrose Bierce, was the author of Write it Right: A Handbook of Literary Faults (1909), his purpose being "to teach precision in writing", which, he held, "is attained by choice of the word that accurately and adequately expresses what the author has in mind, and by exclusion of that which either denotes or connotes something else." In contrast to Fowler's reflection on the "numerous senses" of words, Bierce took a parochial view of proper usage:

Few words have more than one literal and serviceable meaning, however many metaphorical, derivative, related, or even unrelated, meanings lexicographers may think it worth while to gather from all sorts and conditions of men with which to bloat their absurd and misleading dictionaries.

But it was not Fowler's judgments regarding correct usage that set him apart from the field as much as the process by which they were derived and the style in which they are presented. He repudiated the arbitrary grammatical proscriptions that prevailed in his time—split infinitive, preposition at end, conjunction at beginning, etc.—and replaced them with reasoned analysis and sound judgment, delivered with passion, humor, and, as he promised in his letter to Oxford Press, "a cheerful attitude of infallibility". His approach to the subject is marked by an insistence on clarity and vigor and a rejection of pleonasms, clichés, and "barbarisms". Instead of merely passing judgment, Fowler teaches his reader how to think about words, instilling a sense of when to enforce logic and when to respect idiom. Nevertheless, because he refused to be intimidated either by the trends of the masses or by the dubious practices of respected writers, he is regarded by today's descriptive linguists as an intemperate prescriptivist.

The remarkable popularity of MEU invited a plethora of imitations. Fowler's most prominent British successor was the New Zealand-born lexicographer Eric Partridge, better known for his works on etymology and slang, whose Usage and Abusage (1942) includes numerous references acknowledging Fowler's precedence.

The mid twentieth century saw a proliferation of manuals that were tailored to account for American variations in usage, most of them reflecting the growing influence of structural linguistics. * In their Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (1957), Bergen and Cornelia Evans espoused the view that owing to the continual transformation of language, "no one can say how a word `ought' to be used. The best that anyone can do is to say how it is being used, and this is what a grammar should tell us." Margaret Bryant, in her Current American Usage, (1962) endeavored to describe "standard English", which she defined to include any expression that is "used by many cultivated people to communicate in speech or in writing."

Theodore Bernstein, an editor of The New York Times, took a more critical approach in The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage (1965). Bernstein was interested in "what makes for clarity, precision, and logical presentation" and did not hesitate to impose his own predilections. "And why not?" he asked. "If reputable writers are entitled to personal preferences and the whims of the multitude are often heeded, why should I be left out? After all, it's my book."

But the true spiritual heir to Fowler among American commentators was Wilson Follett, whose unfinished work, Modern American Usage (1966), was edited and completed three years after his death by Jacques Barzun. Like his predecessor, Follett was an unapologetic champion of the best in English usage. He denounced illogicality, wordiness, and "journalese" (as marked by "the tone of contrived excitement"), along with pedantry and purism ("The difference between purity and purism is as difficult to define as that between modesty and prudery"), and defended the purity of the language against the gathering storm of descriptivism. Follett may also be remembered for his eloquent condemnation of Webster's Third Edition, Ambrose Bierce's nightmare come true.

The abundance of usage manuals to appear during the last half century have been fairly balanced overall. On the descriptive side, perhaps the best of its kind is Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, edited by E. Ward Gilman, who conscientiously reports the prohibitions of various discerning authorities, only to reject them all in favor of a more permissive approach. Paul Lovinger's Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style may be the boldest of the contemporary prescriptive guides but lacks the illuminating pedagogy of Fowler and Follett. The most popular of today's manuals is Bryan Garner's Dictionary of Modern American Usage, which shows ample respect for the Fowlerian tradition but concedes a good deal of ground to the trends of popular usage.

Among the many contributors to this literature, of particular interest to us here are those who have found it less convenient to write books of their own than to rearrange the words of an established authority, with the ostensible purpose of rendering a classic more accessible to a contemporary audience. Both Partridge and Follett have fallen prey to this practice, but only Fowler has been targeted more than once. It may be argued that there are instances in which this sort of grave robbing is of some benefit to the public, but certainly the editor assumes a strict responsibility to grasp and preserve the essential character and thesis of the original work. The following sections will focus on three of Fowler's revisors whose adherence to this principle degenerated from each to the next: Margaret Nicholson, Ernest Gowers, and Robert Burchfield.



Iargaret Nicholson was a publishing manager of Oxford Press whose best known original work was A Manual of Copyright Practice for Writers, Publishers, and Agents (1945). In 1957, she edited A Dictionary of American-English Usage, an adaptation of MEU to a different time and place:
New words and idioms have come into the language since Modern English Usage; there are peculiarities of American speech and writing not recorded by Fowler; and many of us today, English and American, have neither the time nor the scholarship to follow through the fascinating but sometimes exasperating labyrinth of Greek and Latin parallels and Fowler's Socratic method of teaching by wrong examples. American-English Usage is an adaptation of MEU, not a replacement. AEU is a simplified MEU, with American variations, retaining as much of the original as space allowed.
For the most part, this is an accurate summary. Among the deleted entries are Academy (a list of the chief schools of Greek philosophy and their founders); gag, guillotine, and kangaroo (terms pertaining to the closure of a debate in the House of Commons); fivepenny (similarly of incidental interest to the American reader); common, epicene, neuter (as distinguishable terms of grammar); and pacif(ic)ist (Fowler prefers the longer variant).

The additions include acronym, white-collar, television, and surrealism (all of which came into vogue after Fowler's time); filibuster (a distinctly American practice); Thanksgiving (in formal speech, we are told, it must be followed by "Day"); alibi (as slang for excuse); aid(e) ("aide for aid now common in US"); pinch hitter (and the subtleties of its metaphorical use); propellant, propellent (the first is an American invention); raccoon, racoon (American and British spellings, respectively); slosh (intransitive in US, transitive in Britain); and uglify ("sounds like a recent arrival, but it dates back, in good usage, to the 17th c.").

The revised entries also generally reflect either American variations or evolving usages. Nicholson allows agenda as a singular; Fowler insists on agendum. Of accompanist and accompanyist, he likes neither and wishes for accompanier; she simply observes that the former is more common in the U.S. She retains his observation that greyhound is etymologically independent from grey and adds an injunction against the Americanism grayhound. He denounces normalcy as a "spurious hybrid" with nothing to recommend it; she reports that it was popularized by Harding but short-lived as a vogue term.

Oddly, Nicholson agrees with Fowler's assessment that single quotation marks are to be preferred to double, with the latter reserved for nested quotations, but notes that "Most US publishers prefer the double." She supports his campaign to resurrect the adverbial use of owing to in favor of due to and adds that "in US the infringement [of the latter] is now so general as to be accepted by many as standard usage." On the other hand, she does not share much of his concern for shall & will, should & would—Fowler's classic three-page essay on the subject is replaced by two paragraphs, the first taken from Gowers's ABC of Plain Words and the second a summary of American practice, with a reference to KE for a more complete exposition.

Nicholson assures us of her commitment to preserve not only the essential content of the first edition, but the author's personality as well:

Fowler's own manners and pedantries---and I'm sure he would have been the last to deny them---have been left untouched. There was a temptation sometimes to soften the sting of `illiterate,' `journalese,' `lady novelists,' `uneducated writers'; perhaps Fowler himself would have tempered some of them had he revised his book, but only Fowler could decide that. They have been left as he wrote them.
Here Nicholson trusts her readers not to consult the original work. Fowler's 1926 entry on aggravate and aggravation begins, "The use of these in the sense annoy, vex, annoyance, vexation, should be left to the uneducated. It is for the most part a feminine or childish colloquialism, but intrudes occasionally into the news papers." In Nicholson's revised version, in spite of her promise, the usage is merely deemed "for the most part colloquial". Similarly, when Fowler tells us that the word clever "is much misused, especially in feminine conversation, where it is constantly heard in the sense of learned, well read, bookish, or studious", Nicholson slyly deletes the qualifying phrase. When he observes in his discussion of the misuse of like for as that "Every illiterate person uses this discussion daily", or of the blunder of irrevalent that it is "not difficult, with a little fishing, to extract it from the ladies", she simply removes the observation. Under the heading ITALICS, she grits her teeth through the description of those to whom "it comes as natural to italicize every tenth sentence or so as it comes to the letter-writing schoolgirl to underline whatever she enjoys recording." But the next sentence defeats her patience and is discarded in the transcription: "These mosaics have on discreet readers exactly the repellent effect that interjections had on Landor: `I read warily; & whenever I find the writings of a lady, the first thing I do is to cast my eyes along her pages to see whether I am likely to be annoyed by the traps & spring-guns of interjections, & if I happen to espy them I do not leap the paling'."

There is no denying that Fowler was prone to sexism, and at times intolerant of the educationally deprived—some of the missing lines are repugnant to all fair-minded people—but as his editor has told us, they are Fowler's words and his alone to change. Our main complaint, however, is against her misrepresentation of her own agenda, which is puzzling, since those of us who tend to attach importance to the integrity of an author would be unlikely to buy her edition anyway.

On the other hand, Nicholson was generally true to her word in preserving "Fowler's own manners and pedantries", as well as his more relevant opinions and basic approach to the subject. Regrettably, the same cannot always be said of her successors.



Irnest Gowers was the author of Plain Words (1948) and The ABC of Plain Words (1951), which were later combined and published as The Complete Plain Words. Both are concerned with "the choice and arrangement of words in such a way as to get an idea as exactly as possible out of one mind into another." * However, both were written at the invitation of H.M. Treasury for the specific purpose of developing a set of guidelines to simplify the writing of government officials. Recognizing the broader appeal of Fowler's approach as well as the market value of his name, Gowers later agreed to serve as the editor of a second edition of MEU for Oxford Press.

Oxford's choice of editor might be questioned in light of some of the remarks found in his Presidential Address to The English Association, delivered several years earlier, on the subject of H.W. Fowler: The Man and his Teaching. In particular, the observation that "He does indeed attach an importance which most people today would think excessive to a scholarly exactitude in the formation of new words", though not strictly inaccurate, misses the point that it is for precisely this reason that such discipline is more needed now than in Fowler's own time. Even more disturbing is the assessment of the classic Fowler-Jespersen debate on the fused participle: "if I had been the referee in that contest I would have awarded Jespersen a win on points." Any points tallied in that exchange by Jespersen, who characterized his opponent as an "instinctive grammatical moralizer", were earned either by blatantly misquoting Fowler's original treatise on the subject and cleverly ridiculing the result, or by adding to the endless list of otherwise respectable authors in whose writing the construction may be found. There are, of course, many who are compelled by evidence of the latter sort, none of whom is to be entrusted with preserving the Fowlerian tradition.

Nonetheless, like Nicholson, Gowers acknowledges his responsibility to the author:

I have been chary of making any substantial alterations except for the purpose of bringing him up to date; I have done so in a few places where his exposition is exceptionally tortuous, and it is clear that his point could be put more simply without any sacrifice of Fowleresque flavour.
Bringing Fowler up to date requires a number of new entries—I.Q., cold war, teenage(r), doubletalk, publicize, etc.—as well as deletions and modifications of old ones. Those uses of the phrase all the time that Fowler once classified as slang are now accepted as standard. His woefully confused discussion of molecule, atom, electron, corpuscle is nearly salvaged in the second edition. The once innocent designation Chinaman, Gowers warns, "has acquired a derogatory flavor and is falling into disuse". The revised entry on pacif(ic)ist still supports Fowler's judgment that "The longer form is better etymologically," but concedes that "euphony favours the shorter and probably accounts for its having prevailed."

Unlike Nicholson, Gowers is still addressing a primarily British audience. He is moved, however, to account for the "American linguistic infiltration" in a new entry on "Americanisms", in which he lists additions to the popular vocabulary as well as more subtle influences on grammar and idiom, such as "the obliteration of the distinction between SHALL and WILL that the few who understand it used to consider the hall-mark of mastery of the niceties of English idiom"; "the effects of HEAD-LINE LANGUAGE, especially as an eater-up of prepositions (world food production for production of food in the world)"; "the victory of aim to do over aim at doing; and "the progress made by DUE TO towards the status of a preposition and of LIKE towards that of a conjunction".

One interesting entry introduced in the second edition is a discussion of gambit, a term of chess that worked its way into popular usage over the first half of the twentieth century. Gowers's observation is that the word should be reserved for reference to "the first move, especially with an implication of cunning, in any contest or negotiation", and that any broader use is an example of "that SLIPSHOD EXTENSION that almost always goes with POPULARIZED TECHNICALITIES." The Webster's New International sequence is helpful in tracking this development. The first edition (1909) gives only the technical definition, "A chess opening in which the first player gives up a pawn or a piece, or several successively, for the sake of an advantage in position". The second (1934) adds another: "Hence, a concession to invite discussion." Not until the third (1961) do we find evidence of the deprecated usage: "a calculated move, maneuver, or device". * Clearly, Fowler was not positioned to comment on the extension, but if he had been, he surely would have objected to Gowers's definition as a slipshod extension in its own right, and insisted that the term be reserved to describe a concession offered at the opening of a negotiation with the expectation of recoupment.

Of greater concern is the rewriting of various existing entries. In his efforts to bring Fowler "up to date", Gowers is often too eager to accept defeat on his behalf. Fowler's observation that the adjective phenomenal applies to "everything that is reported to the mind by sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch" remains intact, as does his conclusion, "To divert it from this proper use to a job for which it is not needed, by making it do duty for remarkable, extraordinary, or prodigious, is a sin against the English language", except that Gowers changes the tense and throws in the towel: "To divert it from this proper use ... was a sin against the English language, but the consequences seem now to be irredeemable; this meaning is recognized without comment by most dictionaries."

Where Fowler insists that agenda is the plural of agendum and that the latter be used whenever a singular is required, the revision reads, "Although agenda is a plural word, it is pedantry to object to the common and convenient practice of ... treating it as a singular one." Furthermore, says Gowers, the phrase one item of the agenda, which he admits is "rather cumbrous", is still preferable to agendum, which is in itself pedantic.

Regarding the spelling of blonde, Fowler advises that "The -e should be dropped", especially when the word is used as an adjective, noting the inconsistency of preserving the French inflection with respect to gender but not number: "the doubt between blond women and blonde women (with blondes women in the background) at once shows its abdurdity." Here Gowers drops the objection without explanation. If he is unsure where Fowler would stand on this matter a generation later, he might look to his own contemporary and Fowler's kindred sprit Wilson Follett, who also rejects blonde as an adjective.

Apparently, one of the places where Fowler's exposition has been judged to be "exceptionally tortuous" is his delightful article on "feminine designations":

This article is intended as a counter-protest. The authoress, poetess, & paintress, & sometimes the patroness & the inspectress, take exception to the indication of sex in these designations. They regard the distinction as derogatory to them and as implying inequality between the sexes; an author is an author, that is all that concerns any reader, & it is impertinent curiosity to want to know whether the author is male or female.
      These ladies neither are nor pretend to be making their objections in the interests of the language or of people in general; they object in their own interests only; this they are entitled to do, but still it is lower ground, & general convenience & the needs of the King's English, if these are against them, must be reckoned of more importance than their sectional claims. Are these against them? Undoubtedly. First, any word that does the work of two or more packing several notions into one is a gain (the more civilized a language the more such words it contains) ....
      Secondly, with the coming extension of women's vocations, feminines for vocation-words are a special need of the future; everyone knows the inconvenience of being uncertain of whether a doctor is a man or a woman; hesitation in establishing the word doctress is amazing in a people regarded as nothing if not practical.
Fowler goes on to argue that such objections are actually counter to the higher interests of women, insisting that "the proof of real equality will be not the banishment of authoress as a degrading title, but its establishment on a level with author." However unlikely it may be that today's feminist would be swayed by this piece of Fowlerian logic, it is nonetheless a shame that it could not have been spared the blue pencil of Ernest Gowers, who seems to have valued political correctness above clear thinking. The entire discourse has been replaced with a long and pointless discussion of the various ways in which occupational and agent nouns are inflected to indicate the female sex, and a listing of those feminine forms that are in common use and those that are not. The politic conclusion is that "Feminine designations seem now to be falling into disuse", a result that "symbolizes the victory of women in their struggle for equal rights". It is hard to imagine that even in Gowers's view, Fowler's original point has merely been "put more simply without any sacrifice of Fowleresque flavour."

A more subtle example of the distortion of such flavor is found in the entry on STURDY INDEFENSIBLES. This is, of course, quintessential Fowler: one of those quaintly titled and inimitably crafted essays on English idiom. But what does Fowler mean by the phrase? The answer given will depend on whether one has read the original Fowler or fallen into the trap of taking the more readily available second edition as the genuine article.

The opening sentence of the edited version should raise a flag.

Many idioms are seen, if they are tested by grammar or logic, not to say what they are nevertheless well understood to mean.
Is the reader supposed to be utterly unfamiliar with the nature of idiom? Is the sentence simply free of content? Could this really be Fowler? We compare it with the original:
Many idioms are seen, if they are tested by grammar or logic, to express badly, or sometimes to express the reverse of, what they are nevertheless well understood to mean.
So we are not addressing idioms in general, but rather a certain class of bad ones in particular. Moreover, a stand is being taken.

The revised edition continues:

Fastidious people point out the sin, and easy-going people, who are more numerous, take little notice and go on committing it; then the fastidious people, if they are foolish, get excited and talk of ignorance and solecisms, and are laughed at as pedants; or if they are wise, say no more about it and wait.
Here Gowers takes a stand of his own. In view of the sharp connotation of excess conveyed by "fastidious", it is clear that "sin" is being used with irony and that the author counts himself among the sensible silent majority. But for Fowler, the division is even clearer:
Good people point out the sin, & bad people, who are more numerous, take little notice & go on committing it; then the good people, if they are foolish, get excited & talk of ignorance & solecisms, & are laughed at as purists; or if they are wise, say no more about it & wait.
Note as well that with the replacement of three words, Gowers and his easy-going comrades are merely ridiculing the pedants for their pedantry, whereas for Fowler, they are degrading the purity of the language.

And what is it that the pedants are being asked to wait for?

The indefensibles, however sturdy, may prove to be not immortal, and anyway there are much more profitable ways of spending time than baiting them.
Perhaps there does arise an occasional idiom that is unworthy of use; if so, it is likely to die a natural death.

But Fowler has a very different story: there is no place in our language for any one of the constructions under discussion; they are doomed by their very nature:

The indefensibles, however sturdy they may be, prove one after another to be not immortal. There was a time when no-one was more ashamed to say `you was there' than most of us are now to say `it's me'; `you was' is dead; `it's me' has a long life before it yet; it too will die, & there are much more profitable ways of spending time than baiting it.
By today's standards, an extreme position is represented here: the common expression it's me, and others listed later in the article—that long nose of his, It should not be taken too literally, It is no use complaining, Were ever finer lines perverted to a meaner use?, etc.—are no less objectionable than you was there and will not be tolerated. The later version is not open to this interpretation.

Gowers, then, has gone a step further than Nicholson. The only modifications in her edition that exceed her stated objectives are the deletion of truly offensive passages, which, as one would like to think, Fowler may indeed have removed himself if given the chance. Gowers, on the other hand, in violation of his acknowledged responsibility, elected to revise positions that were merely unpopular—a deficiency that was clearly of no concern to the original author—or simply at odds with his own inclinations. Although his edition is generally regarded as a light revision with no sacrifice of substance, a careful reading leads to a different conclusion.



Iside from its puzzling title, the first thing one notices about The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, Third Edition, is its sheer bulk in comparison to the first or second, as measured by the number and dimensions of its pages. A cursory inspection of any of those pages leads to the next inescapable observation: Oxford University Press could not have hoped to find a more suitable candidate for its editor than Robert Burchfield, if we assume that their objectives were to dishonor the legacy of H.W. Fowler and to offend all who still care about the subject of inquiry.

Burchfield was a lexicographer of the new age, best known as editor of the four-volume Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, an effort that spanned three decades. He was also a scholar of English etymology and linguistic history and the author of several books: The Spoken Word (1980), The English Language (1985), Studies in Lexicography (1987), Unlocking the English Language (1991), and the fifth volume of the Cambridge History of the English Language (1994). Burchfield's approach to the study of language was decidedly descriptive, marked by a commitment to accommodate all dialects and "varieties" of English, past and present. He was, in short, Fowler's natural enemy.

In his introduction, Burchfield has no need to conceal his contempt for his predecessor:

The mystery remains: why has this schoolmasterly, quixotic, idiosyncratic, and somewhat vulnerable book, in a form only lightly revised once, in 1965, by Ernest Gowers, retained its hold on the imagination of all but professional linguistic scholars for just on seventy years?
The question is not meant to lead—he really has no clue to its answer—but rather to set the stage for the plundering to follow. The reader who is hoodwinked by the subtitle "The acknowledged authority on English Usage" and expects to find another updated facsimile of the original classic will be sorely disappointed—"The New Fowler" is no relation to the old.

A fundamental difference between the two lies in their treatment of empirical data: the same ill-formed constructions that Fowler uses as illustrations of his proscriptions are offered by Burchfield as evidence of their acceptability.

From the outset it was obvious to me that a standard work on English usage needed to be based on satisfactory modern evidence and that a great deal of this evidence could be obtained and classified by electronic means.
The condescension spirals downward. Fowler wrote, he notes, "before the advent of new electronic technology made it possible to scrutinize standard varieties of English in many countries throughout the world with minute thoroughness." He allows that there are still more antiquated works on the subject than MEU, "But it is a fossil all the same, and an enduring monument to all that was linguistically acceptable in the standard English of the southern counties of England in the first quarter of the twentieth century."

Burchfield is puzzled by Fowler's need to enliven his scholarship with "a veneer of idiosyncrasy and humour". His "unexpected, even opaque, titles to articles" and "amusing headwords ... have endeared the book to Fowler's devotees, but no longer have their interest or appeal and are not preserved in this new edition." Thus, we find no trace of STURDY INDEFENSIBLES, ELEGANT VARIATION, UNEQUAL YOKEFELLOWS, PAIRS AND SNARES, SLIPSHOD EXTENSION, or PRESUMPTUOUS WORD-FORMATION. The classic essay on FUSED PARTICIPLES is replaced by a discussion of "possessive with gerund", the point of which seems to be that one is free to take it or leave it, and that sentences such as this are unobjectionable: "There can be no question of you disturbing the clerks."

In fact, Burchfield overrules most of Fowler's proscriptions on the basis of their prevalence. For example, he dismisses the conservative position on singular they, noting that "The evidence presented in the OED points in another direction altogether." He defends a child of ten years old against Fowler's attack on grounds that double genitives are in common use, failing to notice that this construction contains not even a single genitive. The use of like as a conjunction, he asserts, "is common in all English-speaking countries, and must surely escape further censure or reproach."

Burchfield's peremptory descriptivism is marred by a streak of elitism that must give pause to his colleague, the "professional linguistics scholar". Oddly, he still has a concept of "poorly educated people", who, for example, use of in place of have. Regarding the construction between you and I, he tells us, "Anyone who uses it now lives in a grammarless cavern in which no distinction is recognized between a grammatical object and a subject." So much for "the evidence". The common misuse of fulsome is dismissed as an American vulgarity, and we are advised to "restrict the word to its 1663 meaning" of offensive to good taste by being excessively flattering, for no reason but that this was the first recorded usage.

Burchfield has retained a few of Fowler's original entries (see, for example, soluble, solvable; repa(i)rable; and repellent, repulsive) but most of the text has been entirely rewritten. In some cases, the motivation for the revision is elusive. Consider Fowler's discussion of intelligent and intellectual:

While an intelligent person is merely one who is not stupid or slow-witted, an intellectual person is one in whom the part played by the mind as distinguished from the emotions & perceptions is greater than in the average man. An intellectual person who was not intelligent would be, though not impossible, a rarity; but an intelligent person who was not intellectual we most of us flatter ourselves that we can find in the looking-glass. Intelligent is usually a patronizing epithet, while intellectual is a respectful one, but seldom untinged by suspicion or dislike.
This paragraph of 94 words is replaced by another of 218 and considerably less content of interest. First, Burchfield finds some advantage in replacing Fowler's pithy characterization of intelligence with his own, "quick of mind; clever, brainy", and then drones on with a series of pointless examples: "The range of ability covered by the word intelligent is considerable, [including] that of a child seeming to have acquired skills ahead of the normal time .... Wayward people in the dock are often described by prosecuting counsels as intelligent but ... . A dog that performs a particular act, e.g. fetches a thrown stick, may be characterized as intelligent." As for intellectuals, he doesn't like them much:
Intelligent people are dispersed through the nation. They are hardly ever hamfisted or impractical; they are simply too busy protecting society from anarchy to claim immunity from the acquisition of ordinary skills. Intellectuals are a distinguished but impermanent minority; they normally speak like archangels, or philosophers, or political scientists, usually in several languages, and have original views about the arts and about the diverse ways of mankind, but usually cannot cut a slice of bread straight or drive a car. Their reputations, like their opinions, come and go.
The original entry is undoubtedly an example of a "schoolmasterly, quixotic, idiosyncratic, and somewhat vulnerable" treatment in need of revision by a sophisticated editor. One wonders what adjectives Burchfield might use to describe his own replacement.

Naturally, many of the usage issues addressed by "The New Fowler" were unknown to his ascendant. Among these is the abuse of hopefully, which was reported independently by Follett and Bernstein in the 1960s. Burchfield's much anticipated treatment of the topic appeals to the innovative notion of sentence adverb:

... certain adverbs in -ly have acquired the ability to qualify a predication or assertion as a whole.
That is, certain adverbs have begun to appear regularly in contexts in which they cannot reasonably be said to qualify any words in particular. Rather than to admit that they are misplaced, one might prefer to say that they qualify the entire sentences in which they occur, in some unspecified way.

Such adverbs are all elliptical uses of somewhat longer phrases.
As a term of grammar, ellipsis has a specific and well established meaning, as reported even by the latitudinarian Webster's Third: "omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete (as in 'all had turned out as expected' for 'all had turned out as had been expected')." And what is the somewhat longer phrase of which hopefully is an ellipsis? Burchfield gives us a choice of two:
"It is hoped [that], let us hope".
What we have, then, is nothing like an elliptis: not only are the omitted words not obviously understood, but the remaining representative word does not even occur in the phrase that is being represented.

With no apparent purpose but to demonstrate the depth of his confusion, Burchfield goes on to present two perfectly legitimate and traditional instances of adverbs as verb modifiers, claiming them as examples of this notion of elliptical sentence adverbs:

The investigators, who must regretfully remain anonymous.
Agreeably, he asked me my name and where I lived.
Here, in fact, he astutely observes that agreeably means "in a manner that was agreeable to me", leaving one wondering how he could possibly fail to recognize its attachment to the verb asked.

Another issue that was unknown to Fowler is the abuse of the mathematical term parameter, which Burchfield characterizes as follows:

A mathematical term of some complexity which, in the course of the 20c., has become perceived by the general public as having the broad meaning 'a constant element or factor, especially serving as a limit or boundary'. This meaning is still at the controversial stage ....
The implication that we shall eventually be forced to accept this usage simply because there exist numskulls who are unable to distinguish between parameter and perimeter is foreboding. But it seems that the true definitions are irrelevant to the present discussion:
The mathematical and computer science uses are too technical to define and illustrate here ....
For the skeptical reader who wonders whether Burchfield has any idea of the meaning of the word, all doubt is finally removed:
Anyone feeling uneasy about parameter has a wide choice of near-synonyms to choose from border, boundary, criterion, factor, limit, scope, etc; one or other of these is normally more suitable in context.
(Apologies to the mathematically uninformed.)

It must be acknowledged that Burchfield, like a broken clock, is occasionally accurate in his observations. As a veteran lexicographer, one of his strengths is a deep knowledge of etymology, as revealed in his articles on "etymology" (a classification of words according to the accessibility of their origins), "folk etymology" (e.g., hiccough and welsh rarebit as misguided "etymologizing alterations" of the original hiccup and rabbit), "back formations" (televise, edit, reminisce, donate, etc.), "facetious formations" (correctitude, contraption, bonus, bogus, etc.), and "true and false etymology" (catgut, crayfish, curtail, and pencil, it seems, are unrelated to cat, fish, tail, and pen). Other entries discuss the origins of individual words, e.g., transpire (which arrived at its modern meaning by way of "to escape by evaporation") and witticism ("an ingenious hybrid formation coined by Dryden in 1677").

But as a guide to usage, The New Fowler's is a poor substitute for the original compendium of insightful analysis, nice distinctions, and prescriptions grounded in logic, analogy, and principles of grammar. Burchfield has succeeded only in replacing all of this with nonsensical blather, belaboring of the obvious, and condonation of ungrammatical constructions supported by mindless observations about prevailing usage.



Iest there be some concern that the foregoing commentary may be unduly harsh, it must be understood that the act of revising the considered words of a deceased author in such a way that his intent is knowingly misrepresented is an offense that cannot go unpunished.

While Margaret Nicholson may be acquitted of this particular crime, the same is not true of Ernest Gowers, whose name was omitted from the title of this saga mainly in the interest of preserving the cadence of that of Ron Hansen's historical novel. Although he respected and conformed to Fowler's general approach, Gowers also significantly altered the substance of his conclusions, with such subtlety and deftness that the unsuspecting reader is readily deceived.

Of course, Robert Burchfield, who combined arrogance with incompetence, was the worst of the lot. It is worth noting, however, that if he had simply chosen a different title, he would be answering only to the reduced charges of incidental plagiarism and having written a wretched book. But then, that book would not have sold nearly as well.

Oxford University Press, which retains the copyright to MEU, must hold some responsibility for—if not interest in—its preservation. Although this premise has not generally been born out by Oxford's practice, its latest offering is a welcome deviation: a photographic reproduction of the original, "edited" by David Crystal. An academic linguist known for promoting non-standard varieties of English, Crystal is an unlikely candidate for this assignment, but his contribution—a topic for another discussion—is felicitously confined to a separate introduction.

A final word in defense of our own title is in order, in consideration of a relevant observation offered by Fowler himself:

coward(ly). The identification of coward & bully has gone so far in the popular consciousness that persons & acts in which no trace of fear is to be found are often called coward(ly) merely because advantage has been taken of superior strength or position; such action may be unchivalrous, unsportsmanlike, mean, tyrannical, & many other bad things, but not cowardly; cf. the similar misuse of DASTARDLY.
Our use of the word may be subject to this censure under the view that Burchfield and his kind have merely taken advantage of having out-lived their unwitting coauthors. But the act of violating the integrity of a defenseless author and using his name to market the result for personal financial gain, while dodging the liability of having one's work judged on its own merit, is no less cowardly than that of the outlaw Robert Ford, who shot his victim in the back of the head and made a living posing for photographs as "the man who shot Jesse James".

D.M.R.