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Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage [Hardcover]

By Merriam-Webster (Author)
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Item description for Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage by Merriam-Webster...

Explains the correct use of words that pose special problems of confused or disputed language

Publishers Description
A critically acclaimed guide to English usage. More than 2,300 entries Presents the history, analysis, and recommendations regarding noted usage controversies More than 20,000 quotations from prominent writers

Citations And Professional Reviews
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage by Merriam-Webster has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2011 page 246
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/1997 page 150
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/1998 page 239
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2002 page 150
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2007 page 197

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Merriam-Webster
Pages   978
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 2" Width: 7.5" Height: 10"
Weight:   3.4 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 1995
Publisher   Merriam-Webster
ISBN  0877791325  
ISBN13  9780877791324  

Availability  0 units.

More About Merriam-Webster

Merriam Webster Merriam-Webster, Inc., which was originally the G & C Merriam Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, is an American company that publishes reference books, especially dictionaries that are descendants of Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).

Merriam-Webster, Inc. has been a subsidiary of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. since 1964.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Reference > Dictionaries & Thesauruses > English (British)
2Books > Subjects > Reference > Dictionaries & Thesauruses > General
3Books > Subjects > Reference > Dictionaries & Thesauruses > Slang & Idioms
4Books > Subjects > Reference > Foreign Languages > General
5Books > Subjects > Reference > Foreign Languages
6Books > Subjects > Reference > General
7Books > Subjects > Reference > Words & Language > General
8Books > Subjects > Reference > Words & Language > Grammar
9Books > Subjects > Reference > Words & Language > Vocabulary, Slang, & Word Lists

Reviews - What do customers think about Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage?

Simply the Best  Mar 8, 2008
I can't in this review hope to match the authority given by the professional grammarian Geoff Pullum in his favorable review of the book. But I can respond to some of the negative points brought up by other reviewers, especially complaints about this book "validing sloppy usage", which it absolutely does not do.

The key point is this: to understand the MWDEU, you have to approach the book as an fully rational adult capable of making your own decisions about what constitutes good or sloppy usage. Rest assured that the book will give you the entire history of a word, including every usage considered a "mistake" by other prescriptivist alternatives. But the evidence supplied in this book is unparalleled in any other quick reference you can find, and after supplying this voluminous information, the MWDEU will leave the final decision to you, with the implicit assumption that you are capable of using your own language judgment to come to whatever usage conclusions best suit your own unique writing style.

This is vastly different from the approach of other manuals, which speak with a authoritative tone reminiscent of your middle-school English teacher. But if you are working under strict deadlines and have little time to consult the evidence personally, then you will likely find the MWDEU frustrating. In this case, you might be better off choosing a more prescriptivist guide so that you can rely on the authority of others.

Just be aware that the MWDEU has put the most work into researching its topics, and thus has the best usage information of any book on the market. This means the reviewer who claimed: "The moral is that usage is a pesky, pedantic thing best ignored in favor of saying whatever feels good" is simply incorrect. The MWDEU does not believe usage is "pesky", else they wouldn't have written a usage book. The difference is that this book doesn't give empty opinions; it presents the actual evidence from notable writers and speakers, and it allows its readers to weigh the options themselves.

And when the evidence dictates, they do not fail to mention a strict preference, e.g. their entry on "contemptuous". If you read their detailed history of the word, you realize that 300-500 years ago "contemptible" and "contemptuous" did not have distinct meanings. They were used interchangeably by Shakespeare, for instance. But over the last couple hundred years, based on the need of speakers and writers to be clear, a distinction has been drawn between the two words, and regardless of the history, they conclude at the end: "We are therefore joining the ranks of the cautious in advising you to keep contemptible and contemptuous distinct". Such is their superbly professional method to reach solutions about usage issues.

For those of us who are no longer in school and tire quickly of pedantic lectures from overbearing instructors, this difference in tone is a welcome change, especially given the outright condescension found in so many other usage manuals. Perhaps it is not for everyone, but the MWDEU is indisputably the best researched and most accurate book out there, and for people willing to invest their own critical thinking skills, it simply has no substitute.
Brilliant Writing Tool  Jun 13, 2007
This books is perhaps the most useful writing book to me as a published writer. In dictionary-like form, you can look up usage advice for specific words or broader topics like "split infinitive" and "agreement, subject-verb." The book provides detailed (and often quite interesting) historical context for entries, often tracing usage of the word back to its original meaning (e.g., "nee") or providing examples of English usage by prominent linguists or literary authors. Each entry boils down the accumulated evidence to advise the reader on what is the proper way to use a word or address an issue.

As someone who writes for a living, this is one of five books that I keep within arm's reach for quick access. (The other four are The Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed., Merriam Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms: A Dictionary of Discriminated Synonyms with Antonyms and Analogous and Contrasted Words, Fowler's Modern English Usage 3rd edition, and a general dictionary.)

I would definitely recommend this book. But keep in mind that it is not a traditional dictionary of words, but rather a guide on how to use words and grammar. Some of its recommendations go against commonly accepted rules or what you may have learned in school (e.g., split infinitives). However, this book backs up its conclusions with detailed analysis and historical examples, so you can actually defend non-conventional usage.

My only complaints are that it has not been updated since 1994, and that there is no digital/on-line version.
MW- Dictionary of English Usage  Mar 26, 2007
If you already know a lot about English and want to know more about its usage and if you are prepared to encounter some complex and sophisticated sample sentences for the usages of the words that you use freely and without much care in your daily life, this book is for you... And also, I think , if you have a chance to get another usage book like Garner's American Usage, you can compare the usage styles offered in these books and get more detailed insight into perception of English thinking system... As many of you will know, Fowler's Modern English Usage is the leading resource on this usage issue; but MW is as comprehensive as Fowler's... And as a last sentence, if you are crazy enough about English, just buy these three usage books...
One of the best books on the English language  Aug 13, 2006
One thing needs to be clear before you buy this book: it is a dictionary, not a book of grammatical rules. That is, it is much more of a descriptive work than a prescriptive one. A lot of the reviewers here seem to take that to mean that it advocates some sort of linguistic anarchy, but what it really does is inform readers about the different aspects of various usage issues so that they can make an informed decision instead of blindly obeying the strictures in books like The Elements of Style. Everyone serious about the English language should own a copy.
Fascinating but ultimately useless  Jul 31, 2006
There's lots of interesting historical information here, much of which is a welcome debunking of grammatical shibboleths -- almost six pages, for example, on "ain't", which was drummed out of the language by misguided schoolmarms. But the non-prescriptive approach has its own problems. The authors can describe usage, but they can offer little in the way of guidance, other than namby-pamby advice beginning with "You may want to..."

Take, for example, the article on "impeach". After a discussion of how some people (some ignorant people, I would say) have misunderstood the meaning of the word, the authors advise: "If you need to use 'impeach' in your writing and wish not to be misunderstood, you had better phrase your context carefully." I suppose a good writer always takes into account the possibility of being misunderstood, but the authors almost seem to be warning us against using the word at all, because people like them are never going to pronounce on the right way to use it.

Tackling the question of "impact" as a verb, the authors go out of their way to show that it's never been really wrong to use it in this way. Their early citations, however, clearly show the word being used in the sense of "strike", a sense in which it was useful. As for the current watered-down sense of "affect", the authors state that "it is too late now for complaint to prevent the establishment of this use". No one can argue with the truth of that; but the question is, if the grammarians and teachers of twenty years ago had complained more loudly, might not this usage have been stopped in its tracks, just as "irregardless" was?

Language does change, but there are many good arguments for conservatism, not the least of which is the loss of clarity and understanding that comes about when usage drifts aimlessly. By all means let's not have artificial rules (like the one I learned in school, that "continual" and "continuous" had different meanings even if no one could remember what they were). But let's have rules, because without them there is no common ground. This book is far more interested in validating sloppy usage than in correcting it.

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