This is one of the most recent usage guides in our HUGE database, published in 2010. For my book on the usage guide as a genre, I decided to read it from cover to cover, just as David Crystal did with Fowler’s Modern English Usage when he was working on his preface for the Oxford Classic edition (2009). This is the only way to understand how the book works, and to place it in the context of the usage guide tradition as a whole.
I’m interested in how the contents were collected, and also in how the book was received. After all, it isn’t the only one around. HUGE contains two other usage guides published in 2010. And I’d also like to know whether people actually buy it and find the advice useful, and whether their language use changes as a result.
There is a brief bibliography at the back, but it doesn’t refer to any of the better-known usage guides like Fowler, Gowers or Partridge, so these were probably not used as a source. We do find acknowledgements at the front, to “the numerous friends who contributed their pet hates and pedantries, especially Linda, who came up with lots of confusables [which is not a word, according to this blog’s spelling checker, but then blog isn’t either], and Carol, who has surprisingly strong views on fine-toothed combs”. So were the items collected just by asking around? Burchfield, too, the editor of the third edition of Fowler (1996), asked around when he wanted to find out about any new usage problems that existed, on “a single day at three separate social occasions in Oxford in early June 1989, two of them garden parties for academic members of the University of Oxford and the third a dinner party” (1991: 109).
As for the book’s reception, I searched Factiva, an online database which allows you to search newspapers and other documents for all kinds of information, but found only three references to the book and no reviews at all. Caroline Taggart‘s earlier, co-authored My Grammar and I (or should that be ‘Me”?), published only two years earlier, was mentioned and even discussed much more frequently in the press at the time.
Her Ladyship’s Guide bears the imprint of The National Trust, and I imagine that this ensures a wide potential readership.
Did any of our readers pick up the book during a visit to a country house or other national heritage site? And if you did, did you actually read the book, as I’m doing, cover to cover, or do you consult it whenever you have a language question? And did you put it on display at home as it were, like a coffee-table book, and does that inspire questions or comments from friends when they visit? One of my informants along the way told me in a questionnaire about whether anyone ever used Fowler that she did so “only to win tedious arguments about grammar”. I expect Her Ladyship’s Guide may be used for the same purpose.
But mostly I’d like to know whether young people find the book useful, but also whether the book helps to put back the clock in getting rid of what are to the author unwanted words or expressions, like enjoy!, or chill!, item (in the sense of “couple”), plus, 24/7, no-brainer, happy bunny, or arm candy (I had to look that one up). The book is apparently written tongue-in-cheek, using Her Ladyship as a persona to guard the notion of “Elegant English”, but, really, its underlying tone is very serious indeed. So do let me know please.
Burchfield, R.W. (1991), ‘The Fowler brothers and the tradition of usage handbooks’, in Gerhard Leitner (ed.), English Traditional Grammars: An International Perspective, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 93-111.