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272Reviews Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Ed. J. Ward Gilman. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1989. xii + 978 pp. $18.95. Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (WDEU) is a work of superb scholarship, outstripping by far in depth of coverage, accuracy, research, and objectivity any work on English usage hitherto published. WDEU contains over 2300 entries or articles, plus more than 600 cross-reference entries in 972 two-column pages. Taken alone, these figures do not adequately convey the actual scope and number of usage problems covered. Many of the entries are more than a page in length, and some of them treat a number of different problems involving the entry word. The entry ain't, for example, runs to 4 1/2 pages, containing a history of the form, a history of criticism of it, and a description of its current status, and including some 60 citations of the use of ain't in both speech and writing. The entry each runs to 2 pages and deals with eight distinct problems involving the headword, supporting the discussion with over 40 citations. The entry disinterested, uninterested runs to slightly more than 2 pages, contains a history of various uses of both forms, quotes numerous commentators, and includes 25 citations. The front matter of WDEU includes a preface, Explanatory Notes, and an excellent Brief History of English Usage. A bibliography of some 280 items is included. Some notion of the relative extent of coverage offered by WDEU can be arrived at by a comparison of its scope with that of two recently published usage guides-one British and the other American. The Longman Guide to English Usage, a British publication, claims 5000 entries in 785 5 1/4 ? 8 3/8 inch pages; WDEU, with about half the number of entries , has 972 6 1/2 ? 9 inch pages. A typical entry in the Reviews273 Longman Guide runs to from one to three or four lines and is brusquely prescriptive in nature. Examples: "It is a tautology to write combine together." "The use of come before an expression of future time (a year ago come March) should be avoided in serious writing." Occasionally an entry will run to a page or more. Examples: The entry vocabulary size is slightly more than a page long; that for quotation marks runs to 2 pages. The Longman guide has entries on many matters not dealt with in WDEU: matters of punctuation and hyphenation, forms of address, spelling rules, and many individual entries on commonly misspelled words. Such matters are purposely excluded from WDEU on the grounds that they are well covered and readily available in general dictionaries, style guides, writers' guides, and handbooks. A recently published American usage guide, Webster's New World Guide to Current American Usage, is difficult to compare in scope with WDEU because it is organized in the way in which the original Dictionary of Modern English Usage by Henry Fowler was organized—a combination of brief dictionary-style entries and longer articles with sometimes amusing titles covering groups of similar or related usage matters. The New World usage guide entries are contained in 359 6x9 inch pages, slightly more than a third the space of WDEU; in addition, sections entitled "Some Troublesome Idiomatic Prepositions," "Glossary of Grammatical and Linguistic Terms," and "References" add another 61 pages, for a total of 420. Typical extended articles in the New World guide, because they deal with groups of similar or related usage problems, do not cover individual items nearly so extensively as the entries in WDIR. Entries almost never give a history of the items covered or discuss criticisms by other commentators. Instead, they consist mainly of a report on the current status of items. The advice and conclusions of the author are generally sensible and realistic, avoiding the extremes both of dogmatic prescriptivism and of the "anything 274Reviews goes" stance. Although there are many shorter, less detailed, entries in WDEU, a typical fully developed entry dealing with a major (read "often discussed") usage problem includes the history of the usage; a history of the criticism of the usage, often citing the exact work, author, and date of the first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 272-283
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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