H.W. Fowler (1858–1933).  The King’s English, 2nd ed.  1908.

Part II



These are excusable in talk, but not in print. A few pieces are given correctly, with the usual wrong words in brackets.

An ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own. (poor)

Fine by degrees and beautifully less. (small)

That last infirmity of noble mind. (the: minds)

Make assurance double sure. (doubly)

To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new. (fields)

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. (quote)

Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy. (cud)

When Greeks joined Greeks, then was the tug of war. (Greek meets Greek: comes)

A goodly apple rotten at the heart. (core)


It is still worse to misquote what is usually given right, however informal the quotation. The true reading is here added in brackets.

Now for the trappings and the weeds of woe.—S. Ferrier. (suits)

She had an instinctive knowledge that she knew her, and she felt her genius repressed by her, as Julius Caesar's was by Cassius.—S. Ferrier. (My genius is rebuked as, it is said, Mark Antony's was by Caesar)

The new drama represented the very age and body of the time, his form and feature.—J. R. Green. (pressure)

He lifts the veil from the sanguinary affair at Kinchau, and we are allowed glimpses of blockade-running, train-wrecking and cavalry reconnaissance, and of many other moving incidents by flood and field.—Times. (accidents)

To him this rough world was but too literally a rack.—Lowell. (who would, upon the rack of this tough world, stretch him out longer)

Having once begun, they found returning more tedious than giving o'er.—Lowell. (returning were as tedious as go o'er)

Posthaec [sic] meminisse juvabit.—Hazlitt. (et haec olim)

Quid vult valde vult. What they do, they do with a will.—Emerson. (quod) Quid is not translatable.

Then that wonderful esprit du corps, by which we adopt into our self-love everything we touch.—Emerson. (de)

Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as him that taketh it off.—Westminster Gazette. (girdeth, harness, boast himself, he, putteth)

Elizabeth herself, says Spenser, 'to mine open pipe inclined her ear'.—J. R. Green. (oaten)

He could join the crew of Mirth, and look pleasantly on at a village fair, 'where the jolly rebecks sound to many a youth and many a maid, dancing in the chequered shade'.—J. R. Green. (jocund)

Heathen Kaffirs, et hoc genero, &c.:...—Daily Mail. (genus omne)

If she takes her husband au pied de lettre.—Westminster Gazette. (de la lettre)


But the greatest wrong is done to readers when a passage that may not improbably be unknown to them is altered.

It was at Dublin or in his castle of Kilcolman, two miles from Doneraile, 'under the fall of Mole, that mountain hoar', that he spent the memorable years in which...—J. R. Green. (foot)

Petty spites of the village squire.—Spectator. (pigmy: spire)


Before leading question or the exception proves the rule is written, a lawyer should be consulted; before cui bono, Cicero; before more honoured in the breach than the observance, Hamlet. A leading question is one that unfairly helps a witness to the desired answer; cui bono has been explained on p. 35; the exception, &c., is not an absurdity when understood, but it is as generally used; more honoured, &c., means not that the rule is generally broken, but that it is better broken. A familiar line of Shakespeare, on the other hand, gains by being misunderstood: 'One touch of nature makes the whole world kin' merely means 'In one respect, all men are alike'.

But cui bono all this detail of our debt? Has the author given a single light towards any material reduction of it? Not a glimmering.—Burke.

A rule dated March 3, 1801, which has never been abrogated, lays it down that, to obtain formal leave of absence, a member must show some sufficient cause, such as ... but this rule is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.—Times.

Every one knows that the Governor-General in Council is invested by statute with the supreme command of the Army and that it would be disastrous to subvert that power. But 'why drag in Velasquez'? If any one wishes us to infer that Lord Kitchener has, directly or indirectly, proposed to subvert this unquestioned and unquestionable authority, they are very much mistaken.—Times. (Why indeed? no worse literary treason than to spoil other people's wit by dragging it in where it is entirely pointless. Velasquez here outrages those who know the story, and perplexes those who do not)

The Nationalist, M. Archdeacon, and M. Meslier put to the Prime Minister several leading questions, such as, 'Why were you so willing promptly to part with M. Delcassé, and why, by going to the conference, did you agree to revive the debate as to the unmistakable rights...?' To these pertinent inquiries M. Rouvier did not reply.—Times. (Leading questions are necessarily not hostile, as these clearly were)

The happy phrase that an Ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.—Westminster Gazette. (Happier when correctly quoted: sent to lie abroad for the good of)


A writer who abounds in literary allusions necessarily appeals to a small audience, to those acquainted with about the same set of books as himself; they like his allusions, others dislike them. Writers should decide whether it is not wise to make their allusions explain themselves. In the first two instances quoted, though the reader who knows the original context has a slight additional pleasure, any one can see what the point is. In the last two, those who have not the honour of the wetnurse's and Rosamund's acquaintance feel that the author and the other readers with whom he is talking aside are guilty of bad manners.

The select academy, into whose sacred precincts the audacious Becky Sharp flung back her leaving present of the 'Dixonary', survives here and there, but with a different curriculum and a much higher standard of efficiency.—Times.

Why can't they stay quietly at home till they marry, instead of trying to earn their living by unfeminine occupations? So croaks Mrs. Partington, twirling her mop; but the tide comes on.—Times.

Sir,—Were it not for M. Kokovtsoff's tetchiness in the matter of metaphors, I should feel inclined to see in his protest against my estimates of the decline in the Russian gold reserve and of the increase of the note issue a variant of the classic excuse of Mrs. Easy's wetnurse for the unlawfulness of her baby.—Lucien Wolf.

Three superb glass jars—red, green, and blue—of the sort that led Rosamund to parting with her shoes—blazed in the broad plate-glass windows.—Kipling.


Every one who detects a writer pretending to more knowledge than he has jumps to the conclusion that the detected must know less than the detective, and cannot be worth his reading. Incorrect allusion of this kind is therefore fatal.

Homer would have seemed arrogantly superior to his audience if he had not called Hebe 'white-armed' or 'ox-eyed'.—Times. (He seldom mentions her, and calls her neither)

My access to fortune had not, so far, brought me either much joy or distinction,—but it was not too late for me yet to pluck the golden apples of Hesperides.—Corelli. (It is hardly possible for any one who knows what the Hesperides were to omit the)

My publisher, John Morgeson ... was not like Shakespeare's Cassio strictly 'an honourable man'.—Corelli. (Cassio was an honourable man, but was never called so. Even Cassius has only his share in So are they all, all honourable men. Brutus, perhaps?)

A sturdy Benedict to propose a tax on bachelors.—Westminster Gazette. (Benedick. In spite of the Oxford Dictionary, the differentiation between the saint, Benedict, and the converted bachelor, Benedick, is surely not now to be given up)

But impound the car for a longer or shorter period according to the offence, and that, as the French say, 'will give them reason to think'.—Times. (The French do not say give reason to think; and if they did the phrase would hardly be worth treating as not English; they say give to think, which is often quoted because it is unlike English)


The fitting into a sentence of refractory quotations, the making of facetious additions to them, and the constructing of Latin cases with English governing words, have often intolerably ponderous effects.

Though his denial of any steps in that direction may be true in his official capacity, there is probably some smoke in the fire of comment to which his personal relations with German statesmen have given rise.—Times. (The reversal of smoke and fire may be a slip of the pen or a joke; but the correction of it mends matters little)

It remains to be seen whether ... the pied à terre which Germany hopes she has won by her preliminary action in the Morocco question will form the starting-point for further achievements or will merely represent, like so many other German enterprises, the end of the beginning.—Times. (The reversal this time is clearly facetious)

But they had gone on adding misdeed to misdeed, they had blundered after blunder.—L. Courtney.

Germany has, it would appear, yet another card in her hand, a card of the kind which is useful to players when in doubt.—Times.

But the problem of inducing a refractory camel to squeeze himself through the eye of an inconvenient needle is and remains insoluble.—Times.

But these unsoldierlike recriminations among the Russian officers as well as their luxurious lives and their complete insouciance in the presence of their country's misfortunes, seems to have set back the hand on the dial of Japanese rapprochement.—Times.

Is there no spiritual purge to make the eye of the camel easier for a South-African millionaire?—Times.

And so it has come to pass that, not only where invalids do congregate, but in places hitherto reserved for the summer recreation of the tourist or the mountaineer there is a growing influx of winter pleasure-seekers.—Times.

Salmasius alone was not unworthy sublimi flagello.—Landor.

Even if a change were desirable with Kitchener duce et auspice.—Times.

Charged with carrying out the Military Member's orders, but having, pace Sir Edwin Collen, no authority of his own.—Times.

It is not in the interests of the Japanese to close the book of the war, until they have placed themselves in the position of beati possidentes.—Times. (Beati possidentes is a sentence, meaning Blessed are those who are in possession; to fit it into another sentence is most awkward)

Resignation became a virtue of necessity for Sweden in hopes that a better understanding might in time grow out of the new order of things.—Times. (In the original phrase, of necessity does not depend on virtue, but on make; and it is intolerable without the word that gives it its meaning)

Many of the celebrities who in that most frivolous of watering-places do congregate.—Baroness von Hutten.

If misbehaviour be not checked in an effectual manner before long, there is every prospect that the whips of the existing Motor Act will be transformed into the scorpions of the Motor Act of the future.—Times.

A special protest should be made against the practice of introducing a quotation in two or three instalments of a word or two, each with its separate suit of quotation marks. The only quotations that should be cut up are those that are familiar enough to need no quotation marks, so that the effect is not so jerky.

The 'pigmy body' seemed 'fretted to decay' by the 'fiery soul' within it.—J. R. Green. (The original is:—
A fiery soul which, working out its way,
Fretted the pygmy-body to decay.—Dryden.)


Quotation may be material or formal. With the first, the writer quotes to support himself by the authority (or to impugn the authority) of the person quoted; this does not concern us. With the second, he quotes to add some charm of striking expression or of association to his own writing. To the reader, those quotations are agreeable that neither strike him as hackneyed, nor rebuke his ignorance by their complete novelty, but rouse dormant memories. Quotation, then, should be adapted to the probable reader's cultivation. To deal in trite quotations and phrases therefore amounts to a confession that the writer either is uncultivated himself, or is addressing the uncultivated. All who would not make this confession are recommended to avoid (unless in some really new or perverted application—notum si callida verbum reddiderit junctura novum) such things as:

Chartered libertine; balm in Gilead; my prophetic soul; harmless necessary; e pur si muove; there 's the rub; the curate's egg; hinc illae lacrimae; fit audience though few; a consummation devoutly to be wished; more in sorrow than in anger; metal more attractive; heir of all the ages; curses not loud but deep; more sinned against than sinning; the irony of fate; the psychological moment; the man in the street; the sleep of the just; a work of supererogation; the pity of it; the scenes he loved so well; in her great sorrow; all that was mortal of—; few equals and no superior; leave severely alone; suffer a sea-change.

The plan partook of the nature of that of those ingenious islanders who lived entirely by taking in each other's washing.—E. F. Benson.

For he was but moderately given to 'the cups that cheer but not inebriate', and had already finished his tea.—Eliot.

Austria forbids children to smoke in public places; and in German schools and military colleges there are laws upon the subject; France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal leave the matter severely alone.—Westminster Gazette. (Severely is much worse than pointless here)

They carried compulsory subdivision and restriction of all kinds of skilled labour down to a degree that would have been laughable enough, if it had only been less destructive.—Morley.

If Diderot had visited ... Rome, even the mighty painter of the Last Judgment ... would have found an interpreter worthy of him. But it was not to be.—Morley.

Mr. de Sélincourt has, of course, the defects of his qualities.—Times.

The beloved lustige Wien [Vienna, that is] of his youth had suffered a sea-change. The green glacis down which Sobieski drove the defeated besieging army of Kara Mustafa was blocked by ranges of grand new buildings.—Westminster Gazette.


No one should use these who is not sure that he will not expose his ignorance by making mistakes with them. Confusion is very common, for instance, between i.e. and e.g. Again, sic should never be used except when a reader might really suppose that there was a misprint or garbling; to insert it simply by way of drawing attention and conveying a sneer is a very heavy assumption of superiority. Vide is only in place when a book or dictionary article is being referred to.

Shaliapine, first bass at the same opera, has handed in his resignation in consequence of this affair, and also because of affairs in general, vide imprisonment of his great friend Gorki.—Times.

The industrialist organ is inclined to regret that the league did not fix some definite date such as the year 1910 (sic) or the year 1912, for the completion of this programme.—Times. (This is the true use of sic; as the years mentioned are not consecutive, a reader might suppose that something was wrong; sic tells him that it is not so)

The Boersen Courier ... maintains that 'nothing remains for M. Delcassé but to cry Pater peccavi to Germany and to retrieve as quickly as possible his diplomatic mistake (sic)'.—Times.

Let your principal stops be the full stop and comma, with a judicious use of the semicolon and of the other stops where they are absolutely necessary (i. e. you could not dispense with the note of interrogation in asking questions).—Bygott & Jones. (e. g. is wanted, not i. e.)



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