The term “usage guide”

Within the Bridging the Unbridgeable project we use the term “usage guide” to describe usage handbooks of manuals like Fowler’s Modern English Usage and many others, as included in our HUGE database. But where does the term come from? I checked the OED, which provides an American source, from a 1951 issue of the journal College Composition & Communication published by NCTE, as a first instance and a second example from the Toronto Globe and Mail (2007).

Could that mean that it is a North American term? Edmund Weiner used it too, in his very useful article “On editing a usage guide” (1988). (The title by itself would make a useful British addition to the v. short list of quotations in the OED.) Does anyone know of earlier examples of the term than the one provided by the OED? I’d like to know how old the term is, and also, if we can find out, who coined it. Perhaps not really important, but I’d just like to know.

My usage guides


Meanwhile, one of our readers, Paul Nance, let me know that he found an antedating to the OED‘s first quotation:

The earliest US example I’ve found so far is Seattle Daily Times 13 Oct 1946, in a discussion of teaching materials used in public schools. It also refers to a locally-produced series of three texts, titled “Usage Guide for Language Arts”.

Thanks for this, Paul!

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2 Responses to The term “usage guide”

  1. paulnance says:

    Here, thanks to Worldcat, are even earlier uses in book titles. The first two are pamphlets:
    Franklin, G. B. 1921. A short guide to good usage. Evansville, Ind: Evansville College.
    Dixon, William V. 1923. A practical guide to better everyday English: Examples of common errors in speech followed by the correct usage. Fort Scott, Kan: Tucker’s Print Shop
    And the first published book:
    Hugon, Paul Desdemaines. 1927. Morrow’s word-finder; a living guide to modern usage, spelling, synonyms, pronunciation, grammar, word origins, & authorship, all in one alphabetical order. New York: W. Morrow & Company.

    In searching these, I found many more “usage guides” in that period that offered advice on manners. If early compilers of language advice borrowed the term from books like The book of good manners : a guide to polite usage for all social functions (1923), does this suggest that they saw “proper English” as a matter of manners or social class?

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