Garner's Modern English Usage (GMEU), originally published as A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, is the reference you didn't know you wanted or needed. I didn't know I wanted it until I started reading David Foster Wallace's (DFW) essay, "Authority and American Usage," found in his book of essays, Consider the Lobster. While the reference (as DFW puts it) is directed at "the people who are least going to need it...Usage Nerds, Syntax Snobs, the Grammar Battalion, the Language Police" and the like, non-expert practitioners of the English language will also benefit from Garner's work (e.g. as a reference, for casual reading, and/or as a gift for someone else, etc.). Arranged like a dictionary, GMEU covers an array of English related concepts. For instance, according to Garner the term "ex post facto" (p. 433) is "slightly pompous but fairly common when used after the fact." In the section discussing "Footnotes. A. The Good and the Bad," (p. 468), Garner states that, "Footnotes are the mark of a scholar. Overabundant, overflowing footnotes are the mark of an insecure scholar - often someone who gets lost in the byways of analysis yet wants to show off." Overall, DFW's praise for the reference is effusive when he says, "The fact of the matter is that Garner's dictionary is extremely good..but the really salient and ingenious features involve issues of rhetoric and ideology and style." I'm not too sure what that means, but it convinced me to buy a copy.
The most original and authoritative voice of today's English lexicography presents a fully revised new edition of his beloved usage dictionary
When Bryan Garner published the first edition of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage in 1999, the book quickly became one of the most influential style guides ever written for the English language. After four previous editions and over twenty years, our language has evolved in many ways, and the powerful tool of big data has revolutionized lexicography. This extensively revised new edition fully captures these changes, featuring a thousand new entries and over two hundred replacement entries, thoroughly updated usage data and ratios on word frequency based on the Google Ngram Viewer, a more balanced coverage of World Englishes, not just American and British, and the inclusion of gender-neutral language. However, one thing has not changed: in no sense is this a "regular" dictionary but a masterpiece of lexicography written with wit and personality by one of the preeminent authorities on the English language. To put it in David Foster Wallace's words, Garner's discussion of rhetoric
and style still "borders on genius."
From the (lost) battle between self-deprecating and self-depreciating to the misuse of it's for its, from the variant spelling patty-cake taking over pat-a-cake in American English to the singular uses of they, Garner explains the nuances of grammar and vocabulary and the linguistic blunders to which modern writers and speakers are prone, whether in word choice, syntax, phrasing, punctuation, or pronunciation. His empirical approach liberates English from two extremes: from the "purists" who maintain that split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions are malfeasances and from the linguistic relativists who believe that whatever people say or write must necessarily be accepted.
The purpose of Garner's dictionary is to help writers, editors, and speakers use the language effectively. And it does so in a playful and persuasive way that will help you sound "grammatical but relaxed, refined but natural, correct but unpedantic."