2014’s most remarkable events in prescriptivism

It’s new year’s eve, and time to look back on the year that is almost behind us! Several remarkable events happened this year, events that we all reported on in this blog.


First there was the new edition of Sir Ernest Gowers’s Plain Words, by his great-granddaughter, the novelist Rebecca Gowers. The book was praised at the Cambridge Usage (Guides) Symposium which we organised in June and which proved enormously successful, thanks to our excellent speakers.

Next, it turned out that the CIA makes use of a style guide: the document was leaked early in July. The document is more than a style guide, and gives usage advice as well. Why was its existence a secret, we wondered, and will it matter that it now no longer is? Two months later, Steven Pinker published a style guide, The Sense of Style. My colleagues in linguistics think the book extremely successful in its attempts to draw on linguistic theory to help readers produce better prose. The book also contains a good deal of detailed linguistic advice, much in the way of the best usage guides. Robin Straaijer reviewed the book in the Washington Post.

From 2014 onwards, we have a regular feature in English Today, which allows us to interact with readers and people interested in prescriptivism generally. Feedback from readers has proved extremely valuable.

But the event most deserving to be remarked upon in this brief account is the publication of our project’s HUGE database of usage guides and usage problems, compiled by Robin Straaijer. The international launch of this freely accessible database took place during our symposium in Cambridge in June. Emily Maas, our project’s intern, tried to assess how HUGE it actually is. We hope that many people will find the database useful, and we invite you all to share your findings with us here in this blog.

So now it only remains for me to wish our readers all the best for the year to come: let’s hope that there will be even more remarkable events in prescriptivism in the year 2015!


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