Just out: Prescription and Tradition in Language

All those interested in the topic of the book may want to make use of the substantial discount offer made by the publisher: 50% no less if your order the book before the end of January!



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A/an homage?

“A homage to P.G. Wodehouse” is the subtitle of Sebastian Faulks‘s novel Jeeves and the Wedding Bells (2013). I picked up the book in our local library because, inspired by my colleague’s earlier query about a peculiarity in Wodehouse’s language, I went for a Wodehouse novel, but found that none were present. The book proved no disappointment, far from it.

But I was struck by the use of a before homage in the subtitle. Surely it should be an homage? No, says the OED: it is an homage in British English while usage is variable in American English.

Does that qualify (h)omage as a potential usage problem in American English? I checked our HUGE database of course, and found that a/an is indeed dealt with by many usage guides, from 1829 onwards, but that homage is not discussed as an example.

What I did like about the novel, Lisa, is that Faulks kept in the linguistic mannerism you identified, and that Bertie even used it in his disguise as a gentleman’s gentleman (e.g. on p. 76). Very subtly (“There was a silence.”), we are made to conclude that this is one of the things that was to give him away. So here is another answer to your question.

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500 Mistakes and Live and Learn

I’ve always been wondering about the relationship between Five Hundred Mistakes of Daily Occurrence (1856) and Live and Learn: A Guide for All, who Wish to Speak and Write Correctly (1856?). Both are usage guides, and they seem to share the date of publication as well as a lot of contents. Both are included in the HUGE database. Paul Nance has just added a very interesting piece to the puzzle.

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P.G. Wodehouse, what?

One of my colleagues here at Leiden is reading P.G. Wodehouse. She told me about this because she had noticed what seeemed to her a peculiar construction, as in “It does make it awkward, what?” and “Better take a look round, what?”. Is this oldfashioned British English, or dialect, she asked me. For me it is ages since I read any Wodehouse novels, not since my teenage years anyway, so I wouldn’t know, except that the construction suggests upper-class usage to me. But I promised to consult the readers of this blog. Does anyone have an idea?

Checking his wikipedia entry just now, I was struck by how similar Wodehouse’s life and career was to Raymond Chandler’s, whose biography I’m reading at the momen. There is not much of an age difference between them, they went to the same school (Dulwich College), both lived in England and the US during periods of their lives, both became writers after unsatisfactory early careers, and both worked for Hollywood.

So I really must reread some of Wodehouse’s novels, as well as the biography I have of him, but have never read.

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Dahlesque got in, so how about Fowleresque?

Two weeks ago, NRC-Handelsblad published an article on the memorable fact that among their new entries, the Oxford English Dictionary adopted words made up by Roald Dahl (1916-1990). The OED as a news item in a Dutch quality newspaper! The occasion appears to have been the hundredth anniversary of the novelist’s date of birth. The article also mentions the adoption of the word dahlesque, to refer to a style of writing typical of Dahl.

Dahlesque into the OED! For years now I’ve been trying to get the OED to adopt fowlerlesque as a word, along with fowlerian and fowlerish, not to mention fowler, a household word according to many. And just a week ago I found another one: fowlerism. It seems that fowler is quite a productive word. There are plenty of examples as well, so if usage is a criterion, these are real words rather (fowler + regular English suffixes) than nonsense words (oompa loompa) and therefore merit inclusion into the dictionary.

OED, do you perhaps need a festive occasion, as a way to pay tribute to someone as well-known as Fowler? How about 2016 being the 90th anniversary of the publication of the archetypal usage guide called A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), published by your own publisher as well?

Any other examples of famous author + esque forms?

  • Chandleresque: p. 201 of A Mysterious Something in the Light. Raymond Chandler: A Life, by Tom Williams (2012).


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500 Mistakes of Daily Occurrence online

Yesterday, completely by chance, I came across a digitised version of the anonymous usage guide (also included in the HUGE database) called 500 Mistakes of Daily Occrrence (1856). The site operates wonderfully, and the document is fully searchable (but still attributed to Walton Burgess). The most amazing discovery though, was that while my own copy is green, this one is red! Would there be any other colours, I wonder?

500-mistakes-red-and-greenAnd here is yet another one, found on archive.org (number 452), more beautifully executed:


On the book’s authorship, however, see:

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (2015). Five Hundred Mistakes Corrected: An Early American English Usage Guide. In: Marina Dossena (ed.),Transatlantic Perspectives of Late Modern English. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 55-71.

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Soon out now: Prescription and Tradition in Language

Some of you may remember the wonderful Prescriptivism Conference we held here at Leiden in June 2013: I’m very happy to be able to announce the publication of the collection of articles that resulted from it in only a few months time. You may pre-order your copy (or ask your library to do so) already: here is the flyer with more information about what will be in it.

And another announcement: the next conference will take place in June next year, in Park City, Utah, organised by Don Chapman from Brigham Young University. The call for papers is now out.

Prescriptivism book

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