The HUGE database contains only a selection of usage guides. On the one hand, because there are so many of them, but on the other because it wasn’t always possible to lay our hands on a copy that could be scanned and included. So imagine my immense pleasure when Maaike, one of my students in the course Early Modern Everyday English, came up to me earlier this week and showed me a copy of a usage guide called Deskbook of Correct English: A Dictionary of Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar and Usage. And, as she said, it was mine to keep! She knew about our project from the History of the Language course I taught last semester, and has now made her own singular contribution to it.
The book was published in 1957, and Maaike had come across it in her grandma’s book case. The authors are Michael West and P.F. Kimber. Thanks to the information on the back of the title-page we now know that West held an MA as well as a PhD degree from Oxford and that he had previously published two dictionaries as well as “numerous textbooks for the teaching of English abroad and at home”. A linguist, in other words. And Kimber is described as a long-standing “press-corrector on the staff of The Times“. Both are therefore language professionals, and they would have scored high on the scale of usage guide writers’ authority which I developed for my book on the genre. (Nearly finished now.)
Another interesting feature about the book is the foreword by C.L. Wrenn (1895-1969) who I remember from my early days in the history of English as an Anglo-Saxonist. Wrenn admits to having had doubts about the book (something we frequently encounter among linguists), but adding that he “quickly came to the conclusion that – whether we like it or not – we all do in fact understand very well the meaning and purpose of a ‘Deskbook of Correct English'”. But he had another reason for complying with what appears to have been West’s request for a preface: “We have worked together in places as distant as Oxford and India; and never have I seen in one man so effective a combination of a quick mind and what my grandmother used to call a ‘practical headpiece'”. That, then, makes two grandmothers in this story. Thank you, Maaike, what a wonderful addition to our project’s collection!