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Reviews1 69 Modern American Usage: A Guide. Wilson Follett. Revised by Erik Wensberg . New York: Hill & Wang. 1998. Pp. xviii + 362. $25.00. WS ien Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage was published in 1966, it was warmly welcomed. Modeled after H. W Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926), it attracted a large readership and went through fifteen printings. In this revision, Erik Wensberg remains faithful to the spirit of the original without suspending his criticaljudgment. His goal was to review every entry "for its use to present day writers," deleting entries that have lost their relevance and revising others to take account of changes in meaning and usage. The result is a book less doctrinaire than the 1966 edition, better written , and, at 362 pages, considerably shorter, even though it includes 500 new words. Those who want a well-reasoned affirmation of traditional grammar and usage will be well served by the new edition. Wensberg relegated Follett's tendentious introductory essay, with its caricature of professional linguists, to the back of the book, where it appears, more suitably placed, as an appendix. The brief new preface is notable for its style as well as its content, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. The first entry, a, an, the, has been shortened by a third, without losing essentials. What was retained has been greatly improved at many points by deft line editing, also typical of the entire revision. Essential distinctions are carefully pointed out: changes in percentage are not the same as changes in percentage points; journalistic and journalese are not synonymous. Wensberg offers a heavy infusion of new words under such Fowleresque headings as popularized technicalities and vogue words and treats them with reasonable skepticism and discernment. He's not happy with the transitive use of the verb grow, as in President Clinton's familiar phrase, "grow the economy." Anyone can grow vegetables and hair, he notes, but "to liken these idiomatic and natural growings to inducing the growth of an economy goes against common sense." From time to time there's a lighter touch, at the entry me, for example : "... An American knocks at a friend's door, and on hearing the call Who is it?, chokes on the natural response, It's me. But American usage long ago licensed the colloquial "It's me" despite the purist preference for the grammatically chaste It's I. Follett noted that 'It's me and That's me are indispensable to friendship and domestic life.' " In his treatment of a number of familiar disputed usages, Wensberg stoutly tries to uphold tradition, even when fighting a losing battle. Like Fowler and Follett, he bemoans the increasing use of due to as a preposition in place of owing to or because of. He insists that the original adjectival use of due, as when "a disease is due to an infection," is "the only appropriate one," supporting Follett , who had written in his frequently convoluted way, that "the loose and lawless due to is still rare in other than those who take advantage of every latitude." Nonetheless, Wensberg cites, without rebuttal, Theodore Bernstein's opinion offered many years ago that the objectionable due to will eventually be estab- 1 70Reviews lished as standard. Meanwhile, "the careful writer" should continue to avoid it and use because of. But others suggest that "eventually" may have arrived. In The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (1996), Burchfield draws heavily on illustrative quotations from established authors to show that "hostility to the construction is entirely a 20c. phenomenon." He expects it to form "part of the natural language of the 21c." The American HeritageDictionary oftheEnglish Language, Third Edition (1996) lists due to as a preposition meaning because of, though an accompanying usage note warns that "many critics" still consider it incorrect. Webster's Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary (1993) states that it has become so widely used and recognized as standard that "there is no solid reason to avoid due to" though it, too, carries a qualifying usage note. Wensberg takes a stronger stand against the acceptance of hopefully as a sentence adverb. He condemns the "misusage" as an "almost infallible warning of unarticulated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 169-170
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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