Someone somewhere wrote, “Thank you for the invite!” An alarm bell rang and this reviewer had to open this book to find a pithy comment followed by two examples. The entry on the use of the word ‘invite’ in Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage says: “Use it in the traditional way as a verb. Avoid it as a noun displacing invitation.”
On the use of ‘invite’ as a noun, if you compare Bryan Garner’s comments quoted above with Fowler’s (First Edition) passive “It has never even as a colloquialism, attained to respectability” or the New Fowler’s (Ed. R.W. Burchfield) rather evasive “….has never quite made its way into uncriticized neutral use” as well as “the general verdict is still that it properly belongs to the informal…corners of the language”, you know that Bryan Garner is more straightforward and forthright in his judgements than his illustrious predecessors.
If you are more interested in writing correctly and transparently rather than in following the endless, and at times hackneyed, debate between the descriptive and the prescriptive linguists, if all that you need is sound judgement on language issues from a scholar you can rely on, then GMAU is the first usage book you should buy. It isn’t a luxury item for your desk; it fulfils a real need.
GMAU is an excellent help book to guide you in making those innumerable critical choices and those small, yet significant decisions a writer is supposed to make every day. At the same time it will prove to be an excellent read for many readers even with a cursory interest in the English language. It will prove to be a friend when you are busy; it will also be an excellent companion when you are not.
What makes GMAU so readable is Bryan Garner’s sense of wit. For example, in his note on the use of ‘Nouns as Adjectives’ under ‘Functional Variation’ he says: “……It would be unwise for one writing about a statute concerning invalids to call it an invalid statute”. Elsewhere, while referring to the inflected forms of ‘Breed’ (>bred) he has recourse to pun: “Yet the ill-bred form ‘breeded’ sometimes appears.” There are numerous entries in the book like his marvellous comments on ‘Obscurity’ that will make you laugh! When he speaks on ‘Redundancy’ and says: “This linguistic pitfall is best exemplified rather than discoursed on”, you can almost see a glint in his eyes. In his witticisms and humorous observations, Garner is a worthy successor of his illustrious precursors in the field.
This book will make you feel that good writing and eloquence are as much a matter of talent as they are of clarity of thought and hard work. It will reinforce your view that in order to communicate your thoughts economically, intelligently and transparently, you need to act and educate yourself in a responsible manner. It will also make you realize that it is foolish to think that the rule of law is needed everywhere in civil society except in the domain of the written words.
For anyone dealing with written English in any form or manner, Garner’s Modern American Usage should be an indispensable component of his desk. But for its examples, culled largely from American journalistic and literary corpus, this book may be considered as a usage guide for ‘Standard English’. For an excellent note on what that may mean, please refer to the book itself.
It is difficult to find any lacunae in this book, which is appended with a ‘Select Glossary’ of the terms used in this guide, an informative ‘Timeline of Books on Usage’ and an excellent bibliography. Its only limitation appears to be physical and spatial — It had to end somewhere and hence there must have been limits to the number of entries it contains. Who wouldn’t ask for more of such a delightful fare?
[Bryan A. Garner, Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2003)].
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