Usage and Abusage

A Guide to Good English
Eric Partridge
Hamish Hamilton, 1947; W. W. Norton, 1998 (Revised Edition)

The 1970 edition of Usage and Abusage, the first I came across, seemed veddy British. Take a look at author Eric Partridge’s dedication in that early edition:

In memoriam of Dr. C. T. Onions, C.B. E., from whose lucid lexicography, severely impeccable etymologies, and humanely corrective English syntax I have learnt more than I can fittingly express in this respectful dedication.

The dedication was killed in later editions. Nevertheless, Usage and Abusage retains a bit of a twilight-of-the-British-Empire air, so Anglophiles may find much to like.

Avid browsers will welcome the A-to-Z format. From a, an to youth and youthfulness, the book clarifies the differences between similar words and homes in on the meaning of others, all in lexicographer Partridge’s distinctive voice. An example:

primeval and primitive. Both words = belonging to or characteristic of the first age of the world or of anything ancient. But only primitive = rough, elementary, old-fashioned. Primitive, moreover, has learned senses (in, e.g. anthropology, medicine, and philology) not possessed by primeval.

Interspersed throughout Usage and Abusage are various mini-essays  – under J, for example, “Jargon”; under N, “Noun Adjectives”; under V, “Vulgarisms and Low Language.” New Zealand-born Partridge, who studied as a young man at Oxford and went on to live the rest of his life in England, died in 1979. Word book author and dictionary compiler Janet Whitcut edited and revised the most recent edition of his book, and was wise enough to leave Partridge’s no-nonsense prose intact. Like to cop a copy for yourself? Then click right here.

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