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Book Dip: Fowler | May 22, 2007

[We’re going to test-drive a few regular features here and see which ones stick. This one will involve a “book dip,” i.e., a random selection from a book on language or style. Today’s book dip comes from the 1944 edition of H. W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. If you like this feature, let us know!]

Inversion. By this is meant the abandonment of the usual English sentence order & the placing of the subject after the verb. [. . .] Inversion is the regular & almost invariable way of showing that a sentence is a question, so that it has an essential place in the language ; & there are other conditions under which it is usual, desirable, or permissible. But the abuse of it ranks with Elegant Variation [a cross-reference to be explored in later posts–ed.] as one of the most repellent vices of modern writing. Inversion and variation of the uncalled-for kinds are like the fashionable high heels placed somewhere below the middle of the foot–ugly things resorted to in the false belief that artificiality is more beautiful than nature . . .

You don’t have to look very far to find a life lesson in there.


Posted in Word Use


  1. Think I need I an example.

    Comment by willenvelope — May 22, 2007 @ 4:41 am

  2. H.W. Fowler hates Yoda!

    Comment by willenvelope — May 22, 2007 @ 4:42 am

  3. As a question: Is this my cheese? As all other sentence forms: Yoda.

    Comment by redsquirrel — May 22, 2007 @ 11:53 am

  4. But he wouldn’t object to “Is this my cheese?” with a question mark, would he? Just to the declarative sentence “Is this my cheese.”

    Comment by willenvelope — May 23, 2007 @ 8:16 pm

  5. Yeah. I need a non-question example that’s also not Yoda. Does Fowler give one?

    Comment by Hillary — May 28, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  6. Hard to dope out the explanation. How about “Bravely flew the flag.”?

    Comment by momsquirrel — May 30, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  7. i like it, have you read ‘the professor & the madman’? or is that too cliche to suggest to y’all?

    Comment by bethie — June 5, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  8. I read “Professor, etc.” several years ago and liked it a lot. The Book Dip feature, though, will focus on excerpts from books on style and usage. But I do think occasional reviews of “books about books” would fit in very nicely.

    Comment by redsquirrel — June 5, 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  9. Ooops where did my comment go?

    If you go to and go back as far as you can in my blog, I have a list of books on books that I enjoyed.


    The know-it-all, Yellow-lighted bookshop, Ex Libris, Wordfreak (not so much books on books, but about Competitive Scrabble players), 84 Charing Cross Road, Professor & the madman, Used & rare

    Comment by bethie — June 6, 2007 @ 2:31 pm

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