On Making Oneself Less Unreadable


Best of 2017

We’re away until January 3, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2017. Enjoy your holiday!

A photograph of H. W. Fowler in sporting attire from his biography The Warden of English.


Grammar enthusiasts either love Henry Watson Fowler or they have yet to encounter his work. It is possible to read his Dictionary of Modern Usage (1926) from cover to cover as a weird, wonderful essay; it is impossible to do so without laughing out loud. A few entries from the second edition, revised by Ernest Gowers:

avoidance of the obvious is very well, provided that it is not itself obvious; but, if it is, all is spoilt. [If the reader believes] that you are attitudinizing as an epicure of words for whom nothing but the rare is good enough, or, worse still, that you are painfully endeavouring to impart some much needed unfamiliarity to a platitude, his feelings towards you will be something that is not admiration. The obvious is better than obvious avoidance of it …