'Be short, be simple, be human.'
When Sir Ernest Gowers first wrote Plain Words, it was intended simply as a guide to the proper use of English for the Civil Service. Within a year, however, its humour, charm and authority had made it a bestseller. Since then it has never been out of print.
Six decades on, writer Rebecca Gowers has created a new edition of this now-classic work that both revises and celebrates her great-grandfather's original. Plain Words has been updated to reflect numerous changes in English usage, yet Sir Ernest's distinctive, witty voice is undimmed. And his message remains vital: our writing should be as clear and comprehensible as possible, avoiding superfluous words and clichés - from the jargon of 'commercialese' to the murky euphemisms of politicians.
In a new preface, this edition draws on an extensive private archive, previously hidden away in family cupboards and attics, to tell the story behind a book that has become an institution: the essential guide to making yourself understood.
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Gowers's main precepts are as sensible today as they were when he first presented them ... beneficial, intelligent and sympathetic (David Crystal)
Rebecca Gowers has been charged with the task of producing a version which is true to the spirit of the original but adapted to the needs of the 21st century. She discharges this task with wit and delicacy (Stefan Collini Prospect)
Over half a century after Plain Words was first published, its principles are as important as ever: say what you mean in the clearest possible fashion. Rebecca Gowers has done a great job ... superb (Caroline Taggart)
One thing that makes Gowers such an engaging figure is that he isn't prissy, priggish or prim. As far as he is concerned, language is a living thing that is constantly changing - and this is just as it should be ( Sunday Telegraph)
Who should read this book? Anyone who writes (Russell Davies The Oldie)
Still the best book on English and how to write it ... Unhappy with versions rewritten by others, Rebecca Gowers, Sir Ernest's great-granddaughter, has produced a new edition ... The result is splendid ... Gowers wrote with wit, humanity and common sense ... [his] central advice should be taped to the screen of anyone sitting down at a computer keyboard (Michael Skapinker Financial Times)
The book has been modernized but preserves all its original charm ... There is arguably a greater need for its circulation among the general public [than ever before] ( Big Issue)
Vastly informative and indispensable (Bill Bryson)
Itself a model of how plain words should be used ( Telegraph)
The zeal with which Sir Ernest uncovers error is matched only by the wit with which he chastises it ( Evening Standard)
Plain Words should be re-issued to all public servants (Eliza Manningham-Buller Spectator)
The great Sir Ernest Gowers ... the grand old boy himself (Lynne Truss)
I am glad that attention should be continually drawn to copies of this book ... I am in full sympathy with the doctrine laid down by Sir Ernest Gowers (Sir Winston Churchill)
A small literary jewel ( Evening News)
A delight, a classic of its kind ( John o'London's Weekly)
Great fun to read ( Economist)
Brilliant ( New Statesman)
A sweetly reasonable and wholly admirable guide ( The Times)
It will delight far wider circles than those to whom it is primarily addressed ( Observer)
Sir Ernest Gowers was born in 1880, and became a leading civil servant. He ran the civil defence of London during the Second World War, chaired the Royal Commission into Capital Punishment whose 1953 report contributed significantly to ending the death penalty in Britain, wrote the bestseller, Plain Words, and later became the first editor of H. W. Fowler's classic Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
Rebecca Gowers studied English at Oxford and Cambridge. She is the author of The Swamp of Death, shortlisted for the CWA nonfiction Golden Dagger Award, and of two novels, When to Walk and The Twisted Heart, both longlisted for the Orange Prize.
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