Friday, October 23, 2009

Further dispatches in the War on Editing

Having watched battalions of my comrades fall over the past several years, and having become a casualty myself, I began to hope that the War on Editing* might have spent its fury, allowing a few fugitive survivors to regroup. Now comes word that a new front may be opening.

Martha Brockenbrough at SPOGG has published an appeal from Bryan Garner, who reports that he has been told that the major bookstore chains are not stocking the new edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage (reviewed here) because usage guides are a “defunct category.” If this be the case — and one can only hope that Mr. Garner has been misinformed by some low-level functionary of diminished intelligence — you can be excused if you feel like the British at Isandlwana when the ammunition ran out.

Mr. Garner’s note:

I have a favor to ask of you as a loyal reader: In the next few hours or days, would you please go to or and buy one or more copies of the new third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage as holiday presents? In fact, keep this gift possibility in mind through the end of the year, won't you?

I need your help in sending a message to the major bookstore chains: they’re not stocking the book because they’ve told Oxford University Press that they consider usage guides a “defunct category.” It’s maddeningly unbelievable. Please help me show them that they’re stupendously wrong.

Meanwhile, in the coming months you might ask about the book when you’re in a bookstore: ask the managers why they don’t stock copies, and encourage them to do so.

If you’re curious to see what effect you’re having, watch the rankings on or in coming days and weeks. We’ll be alerting the major chains to those numbers, and we want to get as close to the top 50 as we can. If you're trying to order and see that the book is labeled "out of stock," order anyway: the effort is also to ensure that the online booksellers keep adequate stocks.

In return for this favor – it’s a grassroots effort – I’ll be happy to inscribe copies that you send to LawProse for that purpose, if you (1) include a filled-out FedEx airbill for returning them to you, and (2) suggest an appropriate inscription.

Those of you still struggling to hold the isolated parapet, turret, or ravelin might well heed this appeal. I don’t agree with Mr. Garner in every particular, nor would I expect you to follow his advice slavishly. I don’t care whether you buy his book through the link below or even decide that your money might be better spent on Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. (Actually, you ought to own both, each as a corrective for the other.) Ours is a commercial society, and the way you spend your money is one of the few means in your hands to show that editing and precision and clarity matter.

*I believe that Phillip Blanchard was the source of this term for the campaign by newspaper, magazine, book, and electronic publishers to pursue a short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive campaign of reducing — or even eliminating — editing to achieve short-term savings.


I received a review copy of Garner’s Modern American Usage from the publisher. In addition, if a reader of this blog should order a copy from by clicking on the link below, I will eventually receive a minuscule portion of the proceeds.


  1. I was just showing my class the second edition of Garner last week, and talking about the different usage manuals out there. Many of them were very interested, not knowing that such books existed.

    I just bought the third edition. Defunct category. Please.

  2. Went to Borders today and found the usage section after some searching. They say they haven't heard of plans to discontinue it. Picked up a copy of Garner's third edition. It was surrounded by many, many copies of Strunk & White... otherwise I would have missed it.

    -Damon, who is off to read the other book he picked up at Borders, on the history of Ireland.

  3. If people don't know about usage guides I'd imagine this call to arms will have its uses. But more likely copies aren't being bought because people have no need for the guides. If I'm unsure of something I just check it online.

  4. There are usage guides on the internet, many of which are not authoritative or informed. This is one reason why books like Garner's are necessary. Ordering my new edition today.

  5. Thanks for sharing this information and hope to read more from you...