The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage (Amis)

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RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
This is an A-Z of Do’s and Don’ts in formal written English. Kingsley Amis builds from Fowler’s earlier works, though he does push back on a few points. Many of his insights are indispensable, but not all of them.

Some of his suggestions are out of date. For example, nobody today worries about the proper usage (or pronunciation) of words like “Pall Mall.” Unless you are a 90 year old man wanting some cigarettes, you have probably never said this word.

Nonetheless, there are valuable rules and suggestions to which you should adhere:

alternate/alternative: alternate suggests “first one, then another.” Alternative suggests another possibility.1

And: it does more than link sentences together. Contrary to old wives’ tales, one may certainly start a sentence with “and.” And if one does start a sentence like so, it can have a stylistic impact.2

As to: don’t ever use it.

Because: Do not start a sentence with “The reason….and then insert because.” Even worse, never say, “Just because.” Rather, “Practice saying ‘He smashed the car because….”3

Convince: You are “convinced of” something, not “convinced to.”4

Gerunds: use the possessive case before a gerund.

Having said that: do not say that. Use “even so” or “nevertheless.”5

Hopefully: When someone says or writes, ‘Hopefully, the plan will be in operation….,” we know immediately that we are dealing with a dimwit at best.”6

However: use at the beginning of a sentence. It is not wrong to use it elsewhere, but the word always throws an emphasis on the preceding word.7

Medieval: “To pronounce in three syllables as ‘medd-eval’ or ‘mee-deeval’ in an infallible sign of fundamental illiteracy.”8

Prepositions: you can use them at the end of a sentence. As Amis notes, “The power of saying…People worth talking to instead of People with whom it is worth while to talk is not one to be lightly surrendered.”9

Shall/Will: Shall denotes futurity; will denotes intention.10

-t: Do not pronounce the “t” in words like “often” and “postpone.” As Amis notes, “But some good people, afraid they may be suspected of not knowing how to spell, say the ‘t.”11

Humor:

“In his heart, and however he may vote, no Englishman readily allows linguistic equality to an American.”12

“Thus Wordsworth, in the Immortality Ode at least, was some kind of deist; the Archbishop of Canterbury is presumably a theist, or is paid to be.”13

Conclusion

I do have one minor criticism. Amis occasionally critiques a certain usage without telling the reader what the correct usage is, often when it is not self-evident.

Endnotes​

1. Amis, 7.
2. Ibid, 14.
3. Ibid, 22.
4. Ibid, 36.
5. Ibid, 95.
6. Ibid, 158.
7. Ibid, 98.
8. Ibid, 132.
9. Ibid, 166.
10. Ibid, 204.
11. Ibid, 172.
12. Ibid, 9.
13. Ibid, 42.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Medieval: “To pronounce in three syllables as ‘medd-eval’ or ‘mee-deeval’ in an infallible sign of fundamental illiteracy.”
Painful to be called out. I looked it up in my 1928 Webster’s and it showed four syllables.

I wonder how he pronounces “Worcestershire”.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm not going to pronounce often as offen. Offen has a separate meaning on my side of the Atlantic, and that is in phrases like "Dave can't come to the phone right now, he's offen the garage".
 

hammondjones

Puritan Board Junior
Hopefully

This seems very evident to me now, but I was well into my adult years before I even considered, via Dr. Scott Clark, actually, that my usage was wrong.

Shall/Will: Shall denotes futurity; will denotes intention.

I'm not sure it's quite a clear cut as that, at least in actual useage.

-t: Do not pronounce the “t” in words like “often” and “postpone.”

General. Stop! I think I see where we are getting confused. When you said “orphan”, did you mean “orphan” – a person who has lost his parents, or “often”, frequently?
King. Ah! I beg pardon – I see what you mean – frequently.
General. Ah! you said "often", frequently.
King. No, only once.
General. (irritated) Exactly – you said “often”, frequently, only once.
 

alexmacarie

Puritan Board Freshman
Based on his views about using the word “hopefully”, I’m inclined to take his advice with a large pinch of salt. I think it’s very comely and proper to speak about things in a hopeful way, without presuming on their certainty in providence.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Yes, modern usage of "hopefully" does not make sense if you stop to map it out linguistically. But usage is usage, and only a persnickety person would object to it these days. Still, Kingsley Amis remains an excellent guide to good writing.
 

reformed grit

Puritan Board Freshman
Screeching eels are a myth from that Dark Ages movie about "to blave", referencing a time prior to popular usage of the electric light bulb.

Verily, there was also in those days of yore, a mist covering the land, rendering foggy - elements of critical language theory. Some there are who say it (the 'mist') was due to Vulcanism, but others attribute it to aspects of Earth's own heightened volcanic activity. This is akin to what can be supposed from modern use of leaded gasoline, where human foggyness and violence is said to have increased due to the content of lead added to our breathable air.

These need not be attributed to a display of God's just wrath, though strong cases may be proffered regarding thus, especially as peculiar to enmity between parties involved.

Nevertheless, the stylistic impact of old wives is most hopefully to be preferred to that of an overabundance of foreign wives on the order of 700 or beyond. Thereto, ask for the old paths of the old wives, where is the good way, and walk ye therein; whether there be a serving of tea or no.
 
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