Friday, December 23, 2016

Usage info at your fingertips

I’ve been exploring the iPhone/iPad version of Garner’s Modern English Usage (full disclosure: it's a free review copy) and I can heartily recommend it as a last-minute gift, at a reasonable $25. I would even say it’s the first reason I’ve had to be glad I switched to an iPhone; the Android version won’t be available for a few months.

I don’t always agree with Garner's recommendations, of course — when did two usage geeks ever agree on everything? — but his research is thorough and his arguments are clear. The look of the app replicates the book’s clean, elegant text (extra credit for not switching to an ugly sans-serif typeface). And, of course, searchable text is the ideal medium for reference books. 

Only headwords and essay topics are searchable, though, which means (among other things) that we journalists can’t search to find out if we’ve been quoted as Bad Examples. (We'll have to wait for our friends to let us know, I guess.) That limitation also disappointed Lynne Murphy, of the Separated by a Common Language blog, who naturally hoped she could search for the BrE and AmE designations so important in her research. (Her fuller review of the app is here.)

On the whole, though, it’s a terrific tool. Now if Santa would only deliver similar searchable versions of some other 20th-century usage books still under copyright — starting with Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, now long in the tooth but still fascinating — I might even learn to love my iPhone. 

(But probably not.)