John E. Metcalfe?

Who was John E. Metcalfe? He appears to have been the author of a usage guide, called The Right Way to Improve your English. The book is cited by Milroy and Milroy (1999), but (apart from a couple of references to Fowler) it is the only such work they focus on. The Milroys drew upon the 1975 edition, which is a revised edition, so there must be an earlier first edition, but I can’t seem to find it.

Milroy and Milroy cite him for his objection to expressions like face up to, stand for, slow down, try out and the like, which they quote him as describing as “hateful”, “horrible” and “disreputable”  (1999:62). In other words, he is cited (among other things) for using the kind emotional metalanguage that we often find in popular books on usage. (The Milroys do not deal with Metcalfe’s use of metalanguage though.)

On p. 57 of their book they write that the book “first appeared as an inexpensive paperback in 1963 and has been reprinted several times”.

But who was John E. Metcalfe? And why was his book so popular that a revised edition was required? These are things we’d very much like to know. And if anyone has a copy to spare, we’d be very interested.


Metcalfe, John E. (1975), The Right Way to Improve your English [rev. ed.]. Kingswood, Surrey: Elliot Right Way Books.

Milroy, James and Lesley Milroy (1999), Authority in Language. Investigating Standard English [3rd ed.]. London and New York: Routledge.

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2 Responses to John E. Metcalfe?

  1. Inge Otto says:

    Intrigued by the mystery surrounding this Mr. John E. Metcalfe, I decided to do a quick search on the internet. Meandering through the various links Google offered me, I ended up at, and it is on this website that I came across various books written by a John Ernest Metcalfe.

    It seems that The Right Way to Improve Your English was first published in 1958 by Elliot Right Way Books in Kingswood, after which several reprints and new editions were produced: 1958 first edition, 1961 new edition, 1963 reprint of new edition, 1975 third revised edition, 1989 reprint.

    Metcalfe appears to have had a great affinity with giving people advice on how to do things the right way, as he also wrote a book called The Right Way to Spell (1980, 1994) and, together with Cedric Astle, he wrote Correct English (1995). Although I could not find any biographical information about Metcalfe, it seems that he was very interested in providing norms of correctness for English language users. “Harness the Power of Correct Language” is the motto displayed on the cover of Correct English. I would not be surprised if he came up with that himself.

  2. Would you say that his book is a usage guide, and that it consequently should be added to the list in HUGE? And what about Metcalfe and Astle (1995)?

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