Most successful usage guide of all times?

This was the question asked on the page-a-day calendar published by Genootschap Onze Taal for 4 June 2004. The answer is, obviously, not the same for English as it is for Dutch.

The most successful Dutch usage manual, Onze Taal tells us, is Jan Renkema’s Schrijfwijzer, while Strunk and White’s Element’s of Style, with over ten million copies sold (!), is the obvious winner for English – or any other language. What about Fowler then? Jenny McMorris writes in her biography of H.W. Fowler, The Warden of English (OUP 2001), that when Modern English Usage came out on 22 April 1926, 60,000 copies were sold before the year ran out (2001:178), a phenomenal success by any standard. For Fowler to overtake Strunk and White’s popularity, something like double that number of copies would have to’ve been sold every year since 1926, which seems unlikely. So Strunk and White very likely remain unbeatable.

But why is the book so popular to begin with? Especially in the light of Geoff Pullum’s article 50 years of stupid grammar advice.

Thanks to Thijs Porck for the Onze Taal calendar page.

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