This new book, however, closely follows several other new guides to good English. We have therefore decided to test drive the new Fowler (FMEU) alongside Chambers Guide to Grammar and Usage (CGGU), Longman's Guide to English Usage (LGEU) and Martin Cutts' The Plain English Guide (TPEG), also from OUP.
The table below gives their rulings on six items of linguistic dispute.
FMEU LGEU CGGU TPEG
to boldly split 7/= 7/= = 3
final preposition 7/= = 3 3
protagonist = 3 - -
infer=imply 7 7 = -
miniscule (sic) 7 7 = -
ongoing situation 7 = - =
(3 approve, 7 disapprove,
= equivocal, - no opinion stated)
The Plain English Guide is the most liberal, as might be expected in a work designed to help readers write clearly, eschewing obfuscation, pleonasm and catachresis. But it almost encourages us to split infinitives and end sentences with prepositions, simply because it's not wrong to do so. In the new Fowler, Burchfield says: "Avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible, but do not suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable." He also discourages, without condemning, prepositions to end sentences with.
Burchfield/Fowler is understanding of "people who knew nothing of the nature of Greek drama" in his acceptance of the use of "protagonist" to mean "proponent", though he detects a "whiff of pleonasm" in the phrase "chief protagonist". The Longman Guide says that if you use the word to mean the main character in a Greek drama, you'll probably be misunderstood, so you should "have the courage" to use it to mean "supporter". Chambers, meanwhile, are happy for you to have the courage to misspell "minuscule" even though this could lead the language into a crisis situation.
Compared with the liberalism of other grammars, Burchfield's enlightened pedantry is a sheer joy to read and consult. Buy it.
William HartstonReuse content