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With Luck

John Lanchester, 2 January 1997

The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage 
edited by R.W. Burchfield.
Oxford, 864 pp., £16.99, November 1996, 0 19 869126 2
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... in 1926, and now brought out in a third edition, completely rewritten by the lexicographer Robert Burchfield. We can take Ludovic’s reliance on Fowler as the synecdoche for a whole tradition; over the last seventy years, Fowler has been the place of first and last resort for English grammatical disputes. Perhaps a chief reason for the success of ...

American English

Robert Ilson, 6 May 1982

Oxford American Dictionary 
Oxford, 816 pp., £9.95, March 1981, 0 19 502795 7Show More
Longman New Generation Dictionary 
Longman, 798 pp., £3.95, July 1981, 0 582 55626 0Show More
Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary 
Harper and Row, 890 pp., £4.95, February 1981, 0 06 180254 9Show More
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... Robert Burchfield, Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, made a bid to unite two nations divided by a common language by unveiling the Oxford American Dictionary, which includes such words as gridlock (“urban traffic jam”). ’ So proclaimed the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. British and American English do indeed differ in all sorts of ways, as the following list of equivalent pairs will remind any doubters: lift/elevator, push-chair/stroller, bonnet/hood, boot/trunk, windscreen/windshield ...

At which Englishman’s speech does English terminate?

Henry Hitchings: The ‘OED’, 7 March 2013

Words of the World: A Global History of the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ 
by Sarah Ogilvie.
Cambridge, 241 pp., £17.99, November 2012, 978 1 107 60569 5
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... without them in the 1933 Supplement. This was the decision of the new Supplement’s chief editor, Robert Burchfield. Ogilvie criticises Burchfield, and her book has caused some fuss on account of its supposed allegation that he surreptitiously deleted words of foreign origin from the OED. She contends that by bringing ...

Who whom?

Christopher Ricks, 6 June 1985

The English Language Today 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum.
Pergamon, 345 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 08 031078 8
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The English Language 
by Robert Burchfield.
Oxford, 194 pp., £9.50, January 1985, 9780192191731
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A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 1779 pp., £39.50, May 1985, 0 582 51734 6
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Words 
by John Silverlight.
Macmillan, 107 pp., £17.50, May 1985, 9780333380109
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Faux Amis and Key Words: A Dictionary-Guide to French Language, Culture and Society through Lookalikes and Confusables 
by Philip Thody, Howard Evans and Gwilym Rees.
Athlone, 224 pp., £16, February 1985, 0 485 11243 4
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Puns 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 631 13793 9
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Fair of Speech: The Uses of Euphemism 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 222 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 19 212236 3
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... of panoptic logocrats? ‘Who whom?’ is famously a political as well as a linguistic question. Robert Burchfield in his deft and delightful book still hopes that it is possible to be a true liberal (that is, only wishy and not washy), so he says that ‘the formal distinction ... is breaking up but should be maintained where possible.’ (Would it ...

Sticktoitiveness

John Sutherland, 8 June 1995

Empire of Words: The Reign of the ‘OED’ 
by John Willinsky.
Princeton, 258 pp., £19.95, November 1994, 0 691 03719 1
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... visits to 37 St Giles and his evidently courteous exchanges with recent custodians of the project (Robert Burchfield, John Simpson, Edmund Weiner) Willinsky detects a quaint mixture of ‘afternoon tea and high-speed computer searches’. His conclusion is friendly, but a little condescending: ‘All told, the OED’s literary, prosaic and omitted ...

Is it ‘Mornington Crescent’?

Alex Oliver: H W Fowler, 27 June 2002

The Warden of English: The Life of H.W. Fowler 
by Jenny McMorris.
Oxford, 242 pp., £19.99, June 2001, 0 19 866254 8
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... the ‘complaint’ tradition that blossomed in the 18th century with the prescriptive grammars of Robert Lowth and Lindley Murray, primers that remained influential right up to Fowler’s day. True, Fowler is concerned to distinguish right from wrong usage, by making his cases negatively, displaying and correcting the wrong. But The King’s English provided ...

Only God speaks Kamassian

Walter Nash, 7 January 1988

The World’s Major Languages 
edited by Bernard Comrie.
Croom Helm, 1025 pp., £50, March 1988, 9780709932437
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Studies in Lexicography 
edited by Robert Burchfield.
Oxford, 200 pp., £27.50, April 1988, 0 19 811945 3
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Van Winkle’s Return: Change in American English 1966-1986 
by Kenneth Wilson.
University Press of New England, 193 pp., £7.95, August 1988, 0 87451 394 4
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Words at Work: Lectures on Textual Structure 
by Randolph Quirk.
Longman, 137 pp., £5.75, March 1988, 9780582001206
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The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language 
by David Crystal.
Cambridge, 472 pp., £25, November 1988, 0 521 26438 3
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... only occasionally extends a broad appeal to the friendly layman. Its editor, the distinguished Dr Burchfield, describes it as being ‘Mainly concerned with large historical, period, or regional dictionaries, including those of the classical languages and of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English’, adding that ‘broad theoretical considerations are not ...

At the Beverly Wilshire

Ric Burns, 8 January 1987

Hollywood Husbands 
by Jackie Collins.
Heinemann, 508 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 434 14090 2
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Letters from Hollywood 
by Michael Moorcock.
Harrap, 232 pp., £10.95, August 1986, 0 245 54379 1
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Rain or Shine: A Family Memoir 
by Cyra McFadden.
Secker, 178 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 436 27580 5
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... shift occurred and America emerged as the dominant world influence on the English language. Robert Burchfield, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, recently pointed out in the opening segment of the engaging BBC/PBS series The Story of English, that the centre of gravity of American English has itself shifted in the last generation from ...

Johnson’s Business

Keith Walker, 7 August 1980

A Dictionary of the English Language 
by Samuel Johnson.
Times, 2558 pp., £45, June 1980, 0 7230 0228 2
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Dictionary Johnson: Samuel Johnson’s Middle Years 
by James Clifford.
Heinemann, 372 pp., £10, February 1980, 0 434 13805 3
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... Gay and Arbuthnot. Thomson’s Seasons. For theology he went to Hooker, Tillotson, William Law and Robert South. For technical and ‘philosophic’ (i.e. scientific) expressions he went to John Ray’s Wisdom of God in the Creation, Grew’s Cosmologia Sacra, William Derham’s Physico-Theology, Thomas Burnett’s Theory of the Earth, Richard Bentley’s ...

Dictionaries

Randolph Quirk, 25 October 1979

Collins Dictionary of the English Language 
by P. Hanks, T.H. Long and L. Urdang.
Collins, 1690 pp., £7.95
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... the market was for ‘bilingual’ dictionaries (especially Latin-English). We had to wait upon Robert Cawdrey in 1604 for a ‘monolingual’ model – aimed at ‘Ladies … or other unskilfull persons’. But the principles and goals are essentially the same. We don’t look up door to find that it means the chunk of material that seals off rooms and ...

‘They got egg on their faces’

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: The Oxford English Dictionary, 20 November 2003

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary 
by Simon Winchester.
Oxford, 260 pp., £12.99, October 2003, 0 19 860702 4
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... rumours of the plague. It then moves to a review of previous English dictionaries, beginning with Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall of 1604, which explains ‘hard vsuall English wordes’ borrowed from Latin and other languages, some now obsolete, others, such as sacerdotal, now well established despite Winchester’s comment to the contrary; and why ...

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