Happy Birthday, Henry Fowler: inventor of that/which rule is 150 on Monday, March 10

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Sat Mar 8 06:25:08 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language --

Happy Birthday, Henry Fowler: inventor of that/which rule is 150 on  
Monday, March 10

March 10, 2008, is the 150th birthday of Henry Watson Fowler, high  
school Latin teacher, lexicographer, and author of the Dictionary of  
Modern English Usage (1926), the most important book on English usage  
of the 20th century (sorry Strunk and White, you lose hands down).

So here’s my e-card to the man who single-handedly invented the  
difference between that and which and convinced thousands of copy  
editors that Druids had carved it on an ancient pillar at Stonehenge....

(picture here -- you have to go onlline to see it)

Actually, Fowler never hid the fact that he wasn’t given the that/ 
which rule on Mt. Sinai. Quite the opposite: he insisted that “the  
relations between that, who, & which have come to us from our  
forefathers as an odd jumble, & plainly show that the language has  
not been neatly constructed by a master-builder” (Modern English  
Usage, 1926, that, s.v.; I’m not going to recount Fowler’s rule here,  
because it’s too complicated, requiring a discussion of restrictive  
and nonrestrictive clauses that’s not particularly entertaining).

So Fowler decided to improve this jumble because, as he put it, “the  
temptation to show how better use might have been made of the  
material to hand is sometimes irresistible.”....
Read the rest at the Web of Language


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


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