Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Straight and Jive

H.W. Fowler has been reissued by Oxford: A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition (with an intro by David Crystal).  This is a much better edition than the third edition of 1996, which was heavily re-worked by R.W. Burchfield, as Jim Holt notes ina short essay in today's New York Times. 

I note in passing that Louis Armstrong wrote a lot.  He loved words.  He would carry his portable typewriter everywhere, and write at every opportunity (two fingers).  He also carried with him a dictionary and a book of synonyms and antonyms. He wrote two autobiographies, published  essays and book reviews, and also wrote tons of letters. When asked if he wrote Swing That Music, he said..."it might not have been a literary masterpiece, but every word of it was my own, so I can read it and understand it."  He once wrote to his manager Joe Glaser: "I personally think that it is imperative that you do it.....Damn....That's a big ass woid."

Discussions - 1 Comment

We squalid writers may appreciate Fowler most of all, as he implies that with just little more rigor and an exercise of the will we can rise from our squalor. That betrays a surprising trust in the progressive improvement of humankind.

Holt is right about the occasional heavy going. One semester I tried to use that section (1965 ed.) about the subjunctive, both to understand and to explain. I lost all, students, self: shipwreck in about fifteen minutes.

The English language simply cannot be a Sevres vase. It is more like Tupperware; it can take a lot of abuse and still be useful. That it can be so, in that sense of resilient flexibility and still sometimes be as beautiful as a Sevres vase is the wonder and miracle of our language.

I have just finished grading the final papers of the class that contained my most squalid freshman writers. I read in that article that Fowler lacked humanity, but he would have to had a heart of stone not to love and certainly laugh at some of the sentences I was privileged to correct.

Censorship and censors have had a rocky road and managed to squeeze in their two senses, but my stand is still clear, freedom of speech is a U.S. right and entitlement given to citizens and should not be taken away.


Without this tragic act, schools would not have the strict safety policies they have in place today, which left teachers and students in harm’s way.


Mr. Fraser made a speech at an assembly full of obscenities and innuendos.

At this point I know I taught them nothing at all. There was no progressive improvement, despite my hope; they smash the Sevres vase. But they are so funny. My students repay me with this comic relief, these unintended burps of humor in their serious papers.

I have that book of Fowler's on my recommended reading lists lest some student become meticulous about his future as a writer and actually wish to improve. (I hope I used "meticulous" correctly there.)

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