FOWLER, H(enry) W(atson)

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FOWLER, H(enry) W(atson) [1858–1933]. English schoolmaster, lexicographer, and commentator on usage, born at Tonbridge, Kent, and educated at Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford. He taught classics and English literature at Sedburgh School, then in north-west Yorkshire, now in Cumbria (1882–99). There followed a period in London as a freelance writer and journalist, before he moved to Guernsey to join his brother, Francis George Fowler. Their translation of the Greek writer Lucian of Samosata was published in 1905, and The King's English in 1906. The brothers went on to edit The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1911), one of the most successful of 20c dictionaries.

F.G.F. died from tuberculosis in 1918 and H.W.F. carried on alone, bringing out The Pocket Oxford Dictionary in 1924. H.W.F., as a member of the Society for Pure English, contributed numerous papers to its publications, including essays on will/shall, subjunctives, preposition at end, the split infinitive, alright, and nouns of multitude. His most famous work, A DICTIONARY OF MODERN ENGLISH USAGE, was published in 1926.

Fowler was a gifted amateur scholar. He remained essentially unaware of the linguistic controversies sweeping through the universities of Europe and the New World. He did not read the learned journals and books in which scholars like Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, Edward Sapir, and Otto Jespersen were propounding the doctrine of descriptive linguistics. His models were the classical languages of Greece and Rome, modified to suit the facts of the English language as he saw them. The responses of writers and scholars to his work have varied, journalists tending towards praise and even adulation, academic linguists towards caution and even reproof. See BARBARISM, EUPHEMISM, FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE, GENTEELISM, GOWERS, GREEK, HYBRID, INVERSION, PUN, SOCIOLOGESE, USAGE, USAGE GUIDANCE AND CRITICISM.