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Language, Literacy, and Technology

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Academic Paper


Title: How Fowler became 'The Fowler': an anatomy of a success story
Author: Ulrich Busse
Institution: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Author: Anne Schröder
Linguistic Field: Applied Linguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: '“'Dictionary of Modern English Usage', short forms 'Modern English Usage, MEU'. The best-known usage manual of the 20C, compiled by H. W. Fowler and published by Oxford University Press in 1926 […]. This work in particular has made the name 'Fowler' as well known among those interested in usage and the language as 'Johnson' and 'Webster', a point of reference for both those who venerate and those who regret what he has had to say.” (Burchfield, 1992a: 311)
If the quotation above is anything to go by, it tells us two things, namely that Fowler's 'Modern English Usage' [MEU] is regarded as the best-known usage manual of the 20th century and that opinions about Fowler are highly controversial. Works like the Fowler Brothers' (1906) 'The King's English' [KE] and Henry W. Fowler's 'Dictionary of Modern English Usage' (1926) [MEU-1] can be regarded as role models for usage handbooks in Britain. The immense success and popularity, especially of the latter work, with new editions in 1965 (revised by Sir Ernest Gowers) [MEU-2] and in 1996 (further revised by Robert Burchfield) [MEU-3], calls for an explanation. In order to reveal the relationship between authority and success, the present article places MEU and its predecessor KE in their socio-historical contexts and then gives a detailed account of the success story of MEU. It analyses the book's reception in its three editions and its treatment in English-language histories and introductory textbooks to the English language.

CUP AT LINGUIST

This article appears IN English Today Vol. 26, Issue 2, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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