A Dictionary of Modern American Usage Info

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In every age, writers and editors need guidance through the
thickets of English usage. Although some language issues are perennial
(infer vs. imply), many others spring anew from the
well of English:
* Is it all right to say alums instead of
alumni or alumnae? And should it be spelled
alums or alumns?
* Should I say empathic
or empathetic? Do you home in or hone in? Is
it a couple of dozen or a couple dozen?
* What's
the singular of paparazzi? Is paparazzis an acceptable
plural? What about graffiti--singular or plural? And what
about kudos?
* What's the correct pronunciation of
concierge? Or schism? Or flaccid?
This
book will tell you. In 750 pages of crisp, precise, and often witty
pronouncements on modern American English, Bryan Garner authoritatively
answers these and thousands of other questions that bedevil those who
care about the language. Garner draws on massive evidence to support his
judgments, citing more than 5,000 examples--good, bad, and ugly--from
sources such as The New York Times, The Wall Street
Journal
, and Newsweek.
Here is a usage guide that,
whether you're a language connoisseur or just a dabbler, you can savor
in a leisurely way, a few paragraphs at a time. No one can browse
through the book without sharing the author's spirited awareness of how
words work and his relish for exposing the affectations that bloat our
language. Yet if you don't have the time for browsing, but simply want a
quick answer to an editorial riddle, this book is your best bet.

DMAU can justifiably lay claim to being the most comprehensive
treatment of how American English is used--and abused--as we enter the
21st century.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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1097 Ratings

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Reviews for A Dictionary of Modern American Usage:

4

Jun 22, 2008

Thanks, Dan! Receiving this book justified my having dragged myself out last night, and made the long G-to-the-A trek home totally bearable, even the part at the end when I was walking home from the train and a group of guys yelled out that they wanted to gang rape me. Hah hah! I just chuckled to myself, knowing that if any of them came close I could brain them with my lethally massive new hardcover Garner's, and then point out some finer points of American usage while the ungrammatical would-be Thanks, Dan! Receiving this book justified my having dragged myself out last night, and made the long G-to-the-A trek home totally bearable, even the part at the end when I was walking home from the train and a group of guys yelled out that they wanted to gang rape me. Hah hah! I just chuckled to myself, knowing that if any of them came close I could brain them with my lethally massive new hardcover Garner's, and then point out some finer points of American usage while the ungrammatical would-be gang rapists were sprawled out on the sidewalk, concussed and bleeding....

This book has the most cogent explanation of the that/which distinction that I have ever seen in my life! Plus, I'd never heard of "remote relatives" until last night, and now I know just what those are (and no, I know my interest in usage is a little goofy, but I still am not your corny grandpa, and can easily resist that obvious pun). If I somehow manage to absorb and remember all the information in this highly readable guide, my usage should become so flawless that sociopaths on the street will instinctively sense my power, and will be so intimidated that they'll leave alone when I'm walking at night. ...more
5

Jan 01, 2011

my best friend Twitch gave me this at trivia 2010-12-26. i promptly brought it home and read, enthralled, until 0545 or so. my date was pissed off, but Mssr. Garner and I danced the night away. every true pedant ought acquire and become intimate with a copy. beyond that, i can't say much more beyond DFW's Harper's review (which anyone not damaged in a profound, Oliver Sacksish-way will enjoy).

as another reviewer below has already claimed, this will likely find place on my desk as the first my best friend Twitch gave me this at trivia 2010-12-26. i promptly brought it home and read, enthralled, until 0545 or so. my date was pissed off, but Mssr. Garner and I danced the night away. every true pedant ought acquire and become intimate with a copy. beyond that, i can't say much more beyond DFW's Harper's review (which anyone not damaged in a profound, Oliver Sacksish-way will enjoy).

as another reviewer below has already claimed, this will likely find place on my desk as the first non-math book worth keeping at ready hand. ...more
5

Jul 05, 2007

The hell with Strunk and White. This is the only book you will ever need.
5

Jul 09, 2007

I poke around in this massive volume, read Garner's brilliant little mini-essays about usage, and a warm, geeky feeling blooms in my chest. Just about the best book on language and its use I've come across. It's like a box of bon-bons if you like this sort of thing.
5

Aug 11, 2012

Update 9/25/12: so, I bought this book. Glad I did-- been flipping through it some more, and it's quite fascinating. Garner can be quite funny even if he is a snoot.

I have to admit though-- upon further reflection, I still don't get the distinction between "erstwhile" and "former". I re-read Garner's explanation, in which he opines that erstwhile is necessary because "former" and "one-time" aren't sufficient, and realized that he never actually explains when you'd use one vs the other! The Update 9/25/12: so, I bought this book. Glad I did-- been flipping through it some more, and it's quite fascinating. Garner can be quite funny even if he is a snoot.

I have to admit though-- upon further reflection, I still don't get the distinction between "erstwhile" and "former". I re-read Garner's explanation, in which he opines that erstwhile is necessary because "former" and "one-time" aren't sufficient, and realized that he never actually explains when you'd use one vs the other! The single usage example given in his entry on the topic isn't very elucidatory.

I know, "elucidatory" is awkward... no doubt Garner has a sternly worded essay on the subject. Mea culpa.
---

I checked this out from the library but realizing now, I need to buy it.

A while back, I accused the New Yorker of using fancy words just for the sake of it. One of the examples I gave was "erstwhile"-- why wouldn't you use the simpler word "former" instead? Don't they mean the same thing? Garner's entry on this topic straightened me out, I get it now. Right on ...more
5

May 18, 2014

Well, I don't know that I would say I read Garner's, exactly.

The forward, about the grammar wars, is a terrific read. Otherwise, I rely heavily on Garner's when I have usage questions, just as any right-thinking person would.
4

Apr 28, 2011

A bowl of cereal and one page from Garner's Modern American Usage is my favorite way to start the day. I haven't been reading this book in the morning so I'm taking it off my list of book currently reading.
5

Nov 17, 2017

Superb.

As a Brit, Americanisms can grate; as can native speakers, at times, truth be told. I bear no ill will. We share a language that diverges and yet often converges owing to our connected world. Bryan brings much of our shared language together sensitively and absorbingly.

If you love language, then this book is a thing of beauty.
5

Jul 23, 2017

My talisman against poor language. I call it my "smarty-pants book."
5

Mar 10, 2017

Modern English Usage is an indispensable book for writers, editors, and those who give a damn about English. Along with Steven Pinker , Amy Einsohn, and Carol Fisher Saller , Garner is one of the world's foremost authorities on the English language. In a world that takes its syntactic cues from the idiotic rantings of media personalities, sportswriters, and (mostly) guys on TV competing to see who can construct the most tautologies during 30-second bursts of inanity, Modern English Usage Modern English Usage is an indispensable book for writers, editors, and those who give a damn about English. Along with Steven Pinker , Amy Einsohn, and Carol Fisher Saller , Garner is one of the world's foremost authorities on the English language. In a world that takes its syntactic cues from the idiotic rantings of media personalities, sportswriters, and (mostly) guys on TV competing to see who can construct the most tautologies during 30-second bursts of inanity, Modern English Usage (formerly Modern American Usage) is a much-needed left hook aimed squarely at addled brains.

I use this book literally every day (and by "literally," I mean that I actually do). It's easily the best of its breed, with Garner its shepherd. Often unjustly accused of being a strict prescriptivist [partly because a large swath of readers either (a) think all things must be 100% black or 100% white or (b) don't like looking things up or changing prose they consider "supercute" simply because it's WRONG—screw those readers who think otherwise], Garner offers perspective and advice both constructive and actionable.

As for changes from the prior edition, the book includes over 1,000 new entries. Garner also procured rights to use Google Ngram charts and word-frequency ratios for many entries. He included a word-change index in the prior edition that numerically rated each word's status from verboten to fully accepted, but the addition of Ngram data adds validity and more context for entries.

Garner's measured wit is still readily evident, and usage examples continue to include plenty of published work by famous writers and famous people in general, which could be interpreted however one likes (I tend to interpret it to mean that many famous people are buffoons when they write, but I may be a little less charitable than most), but mostly they make for real examples in real settings, which is good for perspective at the very least.

I'm glad I was able to write this review without undue snarkiness or sarcasm. I seem to have a habit of that from time to time. ...more
5

Sep 21, 2008

Of the myriad dictionaries, grammar books and usage guides out there, one stands out as the argument-ender: Garner’s.
Why is this book so special? Several reasons:
First, it’s comprehensive. Pretty much any question you can think of concerning usage is covered in the nearly 1,000 pages of this book, with detailed explanations, the usage’s history and examples from print. It doesn’t just tell what’s correct or acceptable, it tells you why.
Second, the man knows of which he speaks. His concise, Of the myriad dictionaries, grammar books and usage guides out there, one stands out as the argument-ender: Garner’s.
Why is this book so special? Several reasons:
First, it’s comprehensive. Pretty much any question you can think of concerning usage is covered in the nearly 1,000 pages of this book, with detailed explanations, the usage’s history and examples from print. It doesn’t just tell what’s correct or acceptable, it tells you why.
Second, the man knows of which he speaks. His concise, thoughtful entries are based on copious research and meticulous attention. Plus, they are clearly expressed with a minimum of jargon.
Third, Garner is firmly in the middle of the strict prescriptivists and the strict descriptivists. What this means is that he’s not an old fusspot clinging to outdated rules of grammar; neither is he an anything-goes endorser of unclear or ambiguous expression. He knows when it’s hopeless to rail against usages formerly labeled “substandard,” and he knows when to preserve useful distinctions.
Fourth, while many reference guides for English are more British in their points of view, Garner specifically addresses American usage. He does note differences between U.S. and British English, as well as American regionalisms and dialect expressions.
(Full disclosure: I served on the panel of critical readers for the third edition of Garner's Modern American Usage.) ...more
3

Apr 22, 2016

Bryan Garner has a specific approach to language usage and Garner’s Modern English Usage, the fourth edition of his usage advice, teaches it to others.

I can’t fully endorse that approach, however. While Garner wants his recommendations to be “genuinely plausible,” recognizing the language “as it currently stands,” actual usage is at the bottom of his criteria and can easily be trumped by other criteria, not all of which are objective.

For example, the guide marks a word as undesirable if it is Bryan Garner has a specific approach to language usage and Garner’s Modern English Usage, the fourth edition of his usage advice, teaches it to others.

I can’t fully endorse that approach, however. While Garner wants his recommendations to be “genuinely plausible,” recognizing the language “as it currently stands,” actual usage is at the bottom of his criteria and can easily be trumped by other criteria, not all of which are objective.

For example, the guide marks a word as undesirable if it is new, seeks to take over another word’s definition, or is simply a variant of another word. To me this is unreasonable. Why impoverish the language by assigning only one word to one meaning?

In English, there are often many answers, something many usage guides, Garner’s included, ignore. Only the quickly aging Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (DEU) takes pains to point out those various answers. So when I use Garner’s, I compare it with DEU and other grammar and usage guides, and then I make a decision. It’s not the only book I consult, but it is an important one.

So how does the new edition compare to the previous?

To find out, read the full review at Copyediting. ...more
5

Jul 16, 2019

Ten plus months at 5-10 pages per day and I have finally finished. This book, as one can imagine, is very informative. It is also, at times, quite amusing in a grammarian's manner. I did learn that I was mispronouncing (internally as I read) several words. I also came to realize that the words you read are not necessarily the ones that you use in speech.
0

Apr 26, 2013

Quite simply the most current and comprehensive book of rhetoric. This indispensable tome is as entertaining as it is educational.
5

Apr 24, 2015

I've wanted a copy of this for many years, since hearing David Foster Wallace and author Bryan Garner chat about Wallace's terrific review/article Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage (a greatly expanded version of which appears in Wallace's book Consider the Lobster, which, cover to cover, I recommend highly.) I finally got my copy of Garner's a couple weeks ago and it's now part of my home's landscape: It's not going on a shelf. It never disappoints, although it can I've wanted a copy of this for many years, since hearing David Foster Wallace and author Bryan Garner chat about Wallace's terrific review/article Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage (a greatly expanded version of which appears in Wallace's book Consider the Lobster, which, cover to cover, I recommend highly.) I finally got my copy of Garner's a couple weeks ago and it's now part of my home's landscape: It's not going on a shelf. It never disappoints, although it can annoy; I never can look up just one entry! On any page there are so many entries that merit at least a glance, and then of course once you glance you're reading…yeah. This is a reference book you can curl up with!

Garner's style is that of the very cool english teacher: he will darn well correct your usage, but he'll often do it in such an engaging way that you almost don't mind being corrected. And when he sticks it to your own pet peeves you may (as I often do) find yourself nodding—or even vocalizing—agreement!

Here's an excerpt of Garner's irregardless entry: "A semiliterate PORTMANTEAU WORD[over 200 small-capped terms like this have essay-length entries unto themselves] from irrespective and regardless, should have been stamped out long ago," — then Garner, as he does with most entries, cites several examples of misuse in major American periodicals, and he includes the author's name! — "Perhaps the most surprising instance of this barbarism occurs in a linguistics text, four times on a single page…Although this widely scorned NONWORD seems unlikely to spread much more than it already has, careful users of language must continually swat it when they encounter it." A semiliterate barbarism! CAN I GET AN AMEN!?

OTHER HELPFULNESS AND COOLNESS:
- Garner has supplied an index of the prenominate small-capped essays. (As I said, the alphabetical entires are peppered with at least a couple hundred of these essays.)
- An exhaustive Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical and other Language-Related Terms. This alone was worth the price of the book. Here's Garner's primary definition of rhetoric itself: "1. The art of speaking suitably on any subject." See? Understated but firm, lightly stylish, pitch-perfect! (And what's also cool if you ever hear Garner speak—check out the aforementioned conversation with D. F. Wallace—his soft Texas accent and relatively mild manner complement perfectly his gently authoritative writing style.)

PERHAPS THE COOLEST THING OF ALL: THE LANGUAGE-CHANGE INDEX
If an entry concerns a usage error (as opposed to simple clarifications) the error is rated on a scale of one to five, which scale Garner calls a Language-Change Index—the key for which is included in the bottom margin of every odd-numbered page. On this scale, a one signifies a complete rejection by all writers, with five indicating that while it may have been an error at one time, it is now fully acceptable.
Two examples.
1. Using the word dearth, which means a mere scarcity of something, to denote an absence of that thing is rated one. It is a misuse of the word as defined and therefore to be avoided. While over on the facing page...
2. Using daylight-savings time instead of the technically correct daylight-saving time was considered erroneous recently enough to be included, but is rated five since the only writers today who object to its use are hardcore snoots. (Snoot denotes an arrogant person of course, but is pressed into duty here as the word with which many members of the so-called Grammar Police have begun referring to themselves, and is, in its own entry, defined rather nicely by Garner himself as "a well informed language-lover and a word-connoisseur.") ...more
5

Sep 10, 2007

This reference guide to English usage probably has the most balanced lexicographical approach (in the on-going prescriptionist v. descriptionist struggle) of any such guides. Is this sentence grammatically correct?

(ps. check out DFW's really really long (but awesome) essay about/review of this: http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave...)
4

Feb 09, 2010

There are a minimum of two works you must have on your reference shelf: (1) dictionary; (2) usage guide. After that, you can make whatever choices you wish. There's a worthy old saying: "usage is king." And usage is anything but static. That's why a book like this is such a treasure. It provides detailed, thoroughly researched discussions of many of the most controversial issues in usage today. If you are serious about the correct use of English, get this book.
5

Aug 13, 2007

i love this usage dictionary because it's contemporary and readable and not too stuffy. Here, snipped from the Garner's Usage Tip of the Day email:

"Functional Variation 4 -- Nouns as Verbs.

One type of semantic shift occurs when nouns function as verbs. There are scores of examples {access} {impact}. Often these new usages catch on {debut} {host}, but others sound slangy -- e.g.: "George will be limoed to the Vet and given great seats." "The Winners! When 'K' Means a Home Run," Phil. Daily News, i love this usage dictionary because it's contemporary and readable and not too stuffy. Here, snipped from the Garner's Usage Tip of the Day email:

"Functional Variation 4 -- Nouns as Verbs.

One type of semantic shift occurs when nouns function as verbs. There are scores of examples {access} {impact}. Often these new usages catch on {debut} {host}, but others sound slangy -- e.g.: "George will be limoed to the Vet and given great seats." "The Winners! When 'K' Means a Home Run," Phil. Daily News, 12 Sept. 2002, at 41.

Although some writers enjoy referring to "fast-tracking" budgets, "tasking" committees, and "mainstreaming" children, be wary of these innovations. They reek of jargon.

Increasingly, too, people are turning noun phrases into awkward phrasal verbs even when much simpler verbs are available. Typically, this involves an evolution from the simple verb to the noun phrase and then to the phrasal verb. For example, hotel clerks frequently deal with customers who change rooms. The staffers then refer to this as a "room change," and then someone at the front desk might ask, "Did you room-change?" Of course, the more natural question would be, "Did you change rooms?" The same phenomenon is apparent when gate agents (using airlinese) say that a flight has been "gate-changed," or when children ask whether they can go "bike-ride."

Some brand names are susceptible of being used as verbs (e.g., "Xerox" for "copy a document, or" "FedEx" for "send a package."). This type of casualism is considered sloppy: it can even result in a cease-and-desist letter from the trademark's owner."

isn't that great? it's a "currently-reading" staple. ...more
0

Mar 10, 2012

As a result of not finishing this book, I did not rate it. In particular, this review is not zero stars.

It is a folly for me to write a review of this volume, given the limited ability I have for the construction of prose, made even more limited by the fact that I have already returned this book to the library. I apologize to the individuals who attend to the nuanced use of English as found in this book, who care not only for choosing the appropriate words and constructions, but who are so in As a result of not finishing this book, I did not rate it. In particular, this review is not zero stars.

It is a folly for me to write a review of this volume, given the limited ability I have for the construction of prose, made even more limited by the fact that I have already returned this book to the library. I apologize to the individuals who attend to the nuanced use of English as found in this book, who care not only for choosing the appropriate words and constructions, but who are so in contact with the written word that they can see its trends and formations, moving pragmatically with the stream of the changing language to take only the most effective uses of its new formations. Please take mercy in your criticisms if not in the red ink you apply to these words.

Given that I am employed as a software developer, as much as a half of my writing is not in English but instead is in a programming language. When I do write, it is usually for quite instrumental purposes, the kinds of instructions, reports, and coordination that comes with the operations of a technical infrastructure. The better part of my reading also tends to come from technical non-fiction and architectural speculation, areas also where the construction of prose is not perhaps the first concern. I certainly enjoy essays and fiction, but I would say I'm only aware of prose at all when its style is so unusual as to be a technical wonder in its own right.

Of course, the only path by an individual such as myself comes to a volume such as this was from David Foster Wallace's review of the book (http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave...), which cited this dictionary's opening as working demonstration of how one undertakes being an expert while maintaining a democratic spirit of pluralism. Although I (quite easily) maintain ignorance of the subtleties of the prescriptivism/descriptivism divide, I do think the sections about Garner exemplifying qualities of a good technocratic expert are fair. However, I remain unable to vouch for the expertise itself. Overall, I read the front material describing the process and ethics by which the dictionary was made, and then began reading the essay pieces, which describe particular subjects or constructions instead of the use of specific words (such as ANIMAL ADJECTIVES or COMPUTERESE). I particularly enjoyed CHRONOLOGY, but I confess I was not prepared to integrate the guidance those that I read offered, and so didn't proceed very far among them.

Overall, it does wonders for one's humility to turn to an expert at something one does everyday to find another level of skill behind it. I can only hope that in my writing that there is occasionally some morsel of insight achieved, likely mostly by accident. In this, my mom's microwave chocolate cake gives me hope. Although she's not a pastry chef by any means, it's still a favorite of mine. In writing it might yet be like Satchel Paige said: "Not everyone can be above average, but no man need be common." Even my lowly usage might find an audience to which it is appropriate.

...more
5

Sep 21, 2018

Nobody really reads this but I can't believe nobody ever told me it existed until law school. An essential reference for the question "am I using this word correctly?"
5

Jul 10, 2019

This is my go-to guide on all language questions. Could not live without it.
5

Jan 11, 2018

This is an unbelievably helpful book. An absolute necessity for academics and other writers.

Used only the 4th edition (2016): Garner's Modern English Usage (GMEU).
5

Jan 08, 2019

Garner is the expert on standard, modern English grammar and usage. When you think you want to disagree or quibble with him, further thought usually renders your quibble or disagreement null. Wisdom, sensibility, and practicality fill Garner's remarks and guidance. I can't image writing and editing, esp. non-fiction materials, without consulting GMEU. Use it; it'll make you happy.
5

Dec 18, 2018

I keep this book by my side every time I write an important document. It offers pragmatic, evidence-based advice on idiomatic writing. Additionally, it's more entertaining to read than a considerable amount of fiction works.

I'll probably be referring to Modern American Usage for the rest of my life.
5

Jun 20, 2018

Superb reference for writers, English-language educators, and those who have an interest in the language itself. No, I did not read this cover to cover; I read only the “essay entries” that are listed in the front of the book. I expect I will be referring to this book on a regular basis; it’s useful and an impressive piece of scholarship.

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