The Cambridge Guide to English Usage
#1  gmw 03-15-2019, 02:17 AM
So, as noted in another thread, I purchased a copy of The Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Pam Peters, published by Cambridge University Press, 2004. (Link to ebook edition.) I think it's an interesting enough publication to be worthy of a thread here.

This is a UK publication, but it makes a brave attempt to cover English usage at an international level. It notes regional variances (American, Australian, British, Canadian, New Zealand, South African and "Standard" - whatever that is) and it makes recommendations for "International English".

For example, at the end of its discussion about ae/e (aeon/eon, anaemia/anemia etc.) it makes this recommendation:
International English selection: Spellings with e rather than the ae digraph are to be preferred on linguistic grounds as well as their wider distribution, throughout North America and increasingly in Continental Europe, Australia and elsewhere. In the UK it would streamline the currently uneven situation, whereby some words are already being spelled with e, and others vacillating over going that way.
(Warning to fans of current UK English: it takes quite a beating in what I have seen so far of the book's International English selections.)

The Preface explains how they achieve this international representation:
The Cambridge Guide to English Usage is the first of its kind to make regular use of large databases (corpora) of computerized texts as primary sources of current English. [...] Corpus data allow us to look more neutrally at the distributions of words and constructions, to view the range of styles across which they operate. On this basis we can see what is really “standard,” i.e. usable in many kinds of discourse, as opposed to the formal or informal.
The layout of the book is a bit strange, using an A-Z dictionary/encyclopaedia arrangement rather than the more usual topic chapters. I'm not sure whether one is any better or worse than the other; I find it is often difficult to locate particular elements in either layout.

The book is available as a hardcover or ebook (PDF with ADE DRM). For the ebook the Cambridge University Press website had a (broken) link to, which is where I got my copy. Note that Amazon do sell this as a "Kindle" book, but from what I saw I think it's still just this PDF version and so it's only available to Kindle apps on PC and smart devices, not eInk Kindle (presumably someone will correct me if I'm wrong).

Regrettably the PDF is not well linked internally (read: not linked internally) and the table of contents is only at the high 'A'..'Z' letter level, so I find I am doing lots of text searching to jump around, but this is still easier in PDF than paper.

As a source for procrastination (something writing-related you can do without actually writing) I can recommend this most heartily.

On a more practical level (disclaimer): There is a lot to learn from any good style guide but remember that style guides like this are intentionally generic and some advice is not ideal for narrative fiction. Find yourself a good editor and believe them over anything your chosen style guide has to say.

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