Comma Comma Comma Chameleon

by Timothy Lusch

Linguistic Murder Most Fowl

The King’s English by H.W. Fowler

Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933), Oxford educated schoolmaster turned English usage and style guide writer, is remembered, if at all, for his inimitable A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. In The King’s English, a book he wrote with his brother some twenty years before Modern English Usage, Fowler laid the foundation for what was to become his greatest work. While this may seem a small thing, or irrelevant in our “anything goes” age, it is not. Fowler’s Modern English Usage is probably the best book of its kind. And while it is a standard reference for most writers, it is useful and interesting to anyone who speaks and writes the English language.

Languages are not static (unless they are no longer spoken), but rather are living and dynamic things. Rules govern grammar and usage (many of us have nightmares about diagramming sentences in grade school) but enforcing those rules like language cops betrays the inherent flexibility of speech. The best teachers know the rules and know when they should be broken. Or gotten rid of entirely. Fowler is one of those teachers.


“Any one who finds himself putting down several commas close to one another should reflect that he is making himself disagreeable, and question his conscience, as severely as we ought to do about disagreeable conduct in real life, whether it is necessary.”