My book, Describing Prescriptivism, has been out for nearly a year now, but I still run into references to usage guides in the literary literature I read that are too good not to make a note of. Or reread, as in the case of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2006), which I first read well before the Bridging the Unbridegable project set off.
The reference is to Fowler’s Modern English Usage (p. 146), and the character discussed is said to have written “a colossal, almost painfully detailed biograpny”. The only biography of Fowler I’m familiar with is the one by Jenny Mc Morris, called The Warden of English (2001). It is neither colossal nor painfully detailed, just an excellent book and a really good read to boot. So why the negative qualification? Is it Fowler’s reputation as a stickler for correctness that Smith is – unduly, in my opinion – drawing on?