H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The
King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.
11. COMMON MISQUOTATIONS
These are excusable in talk, but not in print. A few pieces are given
correctly, with the usual wrong words in brackets.
An ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own. (poor)
Fine by degrees and beautifully less. (small)
That last infirmity of noble mind. (the: minds)
Make assurance double sure. (doubly)
To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new. (fields)
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. (quote)
Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy. (cud)
When Greeks joined Greeks, then was the tug of war.
(Greek meets Greek: comes)
A goodly apple rotten at the heart. (core)
12. UNCOMMON MISQUOTATIONS
OF WELL-KNOWN PASSAGES
It is still worse to misquote what is usually given right, however
informal the quotation. The true reading is here added in brackets.
Now for the trappings and the weeds of woe.—S. Ferrier.
She had an instinctive knowledge that she knew her, and she felt her
genius repressed by her, as Julius Caesar's was by Cassius.—S.
Ferrier. (My genius is rebuked as, it is said, Mark Antony's
was by Caesar)
The new drama represented the very age and body of the time, his form
and feature.—J. R. Green. (pressure)
He lifts the veil from the sanguinary affair at Kinchau, and we are
allowed glimpses of blockade-running, train-wrecking and cavalry
reconnaissance, and of many other moving incidents by flood and
To him this rough world was but too literally a rack.—Lowell.
(who would, upon the rack of this tough world, stretch him out
Having once begun, they found returning more tedious than giving
o'er.—Lowell. (returning were as tedious as go o'er)
Posthaec [sic] meminisse juvabit.—Hazlitt. (et haec
Quid vult valde vult. What they do, they do with a
will.—Emerson. (quod) Quid is not translatable.
Then that wonderful esprit du corps, by which we adopt into our
self-love everything we touch.—Emerson. (de)
Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as him
that taketh it off.—Westminster Gazette. (girdeth,
harness, boast himself, he, putteth)
Elizabeth herself, says Spenser, 'to mine open pipe inclined
her ear'.—J. R. Green. (oaten)
He could join the crew of Mirth, and look pleasantly on at a village
fair, 'where the jolly rebecks sound to many a youth and many a
maid, dancing in the chequered shade'.—J. R. Green. (jocund)
Heathen Kaffirs, et hoc genero, &c.:...—Daily Mail.
If she takes her husband au pied de lettre.—Westminster Gazette.
(de la lettre)
13. MISQUOTATION OF LESS
But the greatest wrong is done to readers when a passage that may not
improbably be unknown to them is altered.
It was at Dublin or in his castle of Kilcolman, two miles from
Doneraile, 'under the fall of Mole, that mountain hoar', that
he spent the memorable years in which...—J. R. Green. (foot)
Petty spites of the village squire.—Spectator. (pigmy:
14. MISAPPLIED AND MISUNDERSTOOD
QUOTATIONS AND PHRASES
Before leading question or the exception proves the rule
is written, a lawyer should be consulted; before cui bono,
Cicero; before more honoured in the breach than the observance,
Hamlet. A leading question is one that unfairly helps a witness to the
desired answer; cui bono has been explained on p. 35; the
exception, &c., is not an absurdity when understood, but it is
as generally used; more honoured, &c., means not that the
rule is generally broken, but that it is better broken. A familiar line
of Shakespeare, on the other hand, gains by being misunderstood: 'One
touch of nature makes the whole world kin' merely means 'In one respect,
all men are alike'.
But cui bono all this detail of our debt? Has the author given
a single light towards any material reduction of it? Not a
A rule dated March 3, 1801, which has never been abrogated, lays it
down that, to obtain formal leave of absence, a member must show some
sufficient cause, such as ... but this rule is more honoured in the
breach than in the observance.—Times.
Every one knows that the Governor-General in Council is invested by
statute with the supreme command of the Army and that it would be
disastrous to subvert that power. But 'why drag in Velasquez'? If any
one wishes us to infer that Lord Kitchener has, directly or
indirectly, proposed to subvert this unquestioned and unquestionable
authority, they are very much mistaken.—Times. (Why indeed?
no worse literary treason than to spoil other people's wit by dragging
it in where it is entirely pointless. Velasquez here outrages those
who know the story, and perplexes those who do not)
The Nationalist, M. Archdeacon, and M. Meslier put to the Prime
Minister several leading questions, such as, 'Why were you so
willing promptly to part with M. Delcassé, and why, by going to the
conference, did you agree to revive the debate as to the unmistakable
rights...?' To these pertinent inquiries M. Rouvier did not reply.—Times.
(Leading questions are necessarily not hostile, as these clearly were)
The happy phrase that an Ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to
lie for his country.—Westminster Gazette. (Happier when
correctly quoted: sent to lie abroad for the good of)
A writer who abounds in literary allusions necessarily appeals to a
small audience, to those acquainted with about the same set of books as
himself; they like his allusions, others dislike them. Writers should
decide whether it is not wise to make their allusions explain
themselves. In the first two instances quoted, though the reader who
knows the original context has a slight additional pleasure, any one can
see what the point is. In the last two, those who have not the honour of
the wetnurse's and Rosamund's acquaintance feel that the author and the
other readers with whom he is talking aside are guilty of bad manners.
The select academy, into whose sacred precincts the audacious Becky
Sharp flung back her leaving present of the 'Dixonary', survives here
and there, but with a different curriculum and a much higher standard
Why can't they stay quietly at home till they marry, instead of trying
to earn their living by unfeminine occupations? So croaks Mrs.
Partington, twirling her mop; but the tide comes on.—Times.
Sir,—Were it not for M. Kokovtsoff's tetchiness in the matter of
metaphors, I should feel inclined to see in his protest against my
estimates of the decline in the Russian gold reserve and of the
increase of the note issue a variant of the classic excuse of Mrs.
Easy's wetnurse for the unlawfulness of her baby.—Lucien Wolf.
Three superb glass jars—red, green, and blue—of the sort that led
Rosamund to parting with her shoes—blazed in the broad plate-glass
16. INCORRECT ALLUSION
Every one who detects a writer pretending to more knowledge than he has
jumps to the conclusion that the detected must know less than the
detective, and cannot be worth his reading. Incorrect allusion of this
kind is therefore fatal.
Homer would have seemed arrogantly superior to his audience if he had
not called Hebe 'white-armed' or 'ox-eyed'.—Times. (He seldom
mentions her, and calls her neither)
My access to fortune had not, so far, brought me either much joy or
distinction,—but it was not too late for me yet to pluck the golden
apples of Hesperides.—Corelli. (It is hardly possible for any one
who knows what the Hesperides were to omit the)
My publisher, John Morgeson ... was not like Shakespeare's Cassio
strictly 'an honourable man'.—Corelli. (Cassio was an honourable
man, but was never called so. Even Cassius has only his share in So
are they all, all honourable men. Brutus, perhaps?)
A sturdy Benedict to propose a tax on bachelors.—Westminster
Gazette. (Benedick. In spite of the Oxford Dictionary, the
differentiation between the saint, Benedict, and the converted
bachelor, Benedick, is surely not now to be given up)
But impound the car for a longer or shorter period according to the
offence, and that, as the French say, 'will give them reason to
think'.—Times. (The French do not say give reason to
think; and if they did the phrase would hardly be worth treating
as not English; they say give to think, which is often quoted
because it is unlike English)
17. DOVETAILED AND ADAPTED
QUOTATIONS AND PHRASES
The fitting into a sentence of refractory quotations, the making of
facetious additions to them, and the constructing of Latin cases with
English governing words, have often intolerably ponderous effects.
Though his denial of any steps in that direction may be true in his
official capacity, there is probably some smoke in the fire of
comment to which his personal relations with German statesmen have
given rise.—Times. (The reversal of smoke and fire may be a
slip of the pen or a joke; but the correction of it mends matters
It remains to be seen whether ... the pied à terre which Germany
hopes she has won by her preliminary action in the Morocco question
will form the starting-point for further achievements or will merely
represent, like so many other German enterprises, the end of the
beginning.—Times. (The reversal this time is clearly facetious)
But they had gone on adding misdeed to misdeed, they had blundered
after blunder.—L. Courtney.
Germany has, it would appear, yet another card in her hand, a card of
the kind which is useful to players when in doubt.—Times.
But the problem of inducing a refractory camel to squeeze
himself through the eye of an inconvenient needle is and
But these unsoldierlike recriminations among the Russian officers as
well as their luxurious lives and their complete insouciance in the
presence of their country's misfortunes, seems to have set back the
hand on the dial of Japanese rapprochement.—Times.
Is there no spiritual purge to make the eye of the camel easier for a
And so it has come to pass that, not only where invalids do
congregate, but in places hitherto reserved for the summer
recreation of the tourist or the mountaineer there is a growing influx
of winter pleasure-seekers.—Times.
Salmasius alone was not unworthy sublimi flagello.—Landor.
Even if a change were desirable with Kitchener duce et
Charged with carrying out the Military Member's orders, but having, pace
Sir Edwin Collen, no authority of his own.—Times.
It is not in the interests of the Japanese to close the book of the
war, until they have placed themselves in the position of beati
possidentes.—Times. (Beati possidentes is a sentence,
meaning Blessed are those who are in possession; to fit it into
another sentence is most awkward)
Resignation became a virtue of necessity for Sweden in hopes that a
better understanding might in time grow out of the new order of
things.—Times. (In the original phrase, of necessity
does not depend on virtue, but on make; and it is
intolerable without the word that gives it its meaning)
Many of the celebrities who in that most frivolous of watering-places
do congregate.—Baroness von Hutten.
If misbehaviour be not checked in an effectual manner before long,
there is every prospect that the whips of the existing Motor Act will
be transformed into the scorpions of the Motor Act of the future.—Times.
A special protest should be made against the practice of introducing a
quotation in two or three instalments of a word or two, each with its
separate suit of quotation marks. The only quotations that should be cut
up are those that are familiar enough to need no quotation marks, so
that the effect is not so jerky.
The 'pigmy body' seemed 'fretted to decay' by the 'fiery soul' within
it.—J. R. Green. (The original is:—
A fiery soul which, working out its way,
Fretted the pygmy-body to decay.—Dryden.)
18. TRITE QUOTATION
Quotation may be material or formal. With the first, the writer quotes
to support himself by the authority (or to impugn the authority) of the
person quoted; this does not concern us. With the second, he quotes to
add some charm of striking expression or of association to his own
writing. To the reader, those quotations are agreeable that neither
strike him as hackneyed, nor rebuke his ignorance by their complete
novelty, but rouse dormant memories. Quotation, then, should be adapted
to the probable reader's cultivation. To deal in trite quotations and
phrases therefore amounts to a confession that the writer either is
uncultivated himself, or is addressing the uncultivated. All who would
not make this confession are recommended to avoid (unless in some really
new or perverted application—notum si callida verbum reddiderit
junctura novum) such things as:
Chartered libertine; balm in Gilead; my prophetic soul; harmless
necessary; e pur si muove; there 's the rub; the curate's egg; hinc
illae lacrimae; fit audience though few; a consummation devoutly to be
wished; more in sorrow than in anger; metal more attractive; heir of
all the ages; curses not loud but deep; more sinned against than
sinning; the irony of fate; the psychological moment; the man in the
street; the sleep of the just; a work of supererogation; the pity of
it; the scenes he loved so well; in her great sorrow; all that was
mortal of—; few equals and no superior; leave severely alone; suffer
The plan partook of the nature of that of those ingenious islanders
who lived entirely by taking in each other's washing.—E. F. Benson.
For he was but moderately given to 'the cups that cheer but not
inebriate', and had already finished his tea.—Eliot.
Austria forbids children to smoke in public places; and in German
schools and military colleges there are laws upon the subject; France,
Spain, Greece, and Portugal leave the matter severely
alone.—Westminster Gazette. (Severely is much worse than
They carried compulsory subdivision and restriction of all kinds of
skilled labour down to a degree that would have been laughable
enough, if it had only been less destructive.—Morley.
If Diderot had visited ... Rome, even the mighty painter of the Last
Judgment ... would have found an interpreter worthy of him. But it
was not to be.—Morley.
Mr. de Sélincourt has, of course, the defects of his
The beloved lustige Wien [Vienna, that is] of his youth had suffered
a sea-change. The green glacis down which Sobieski drove the
defeated besieging army of Kara Mustafa was blocked by ranges of grand
new buildings.—Westminster Gazette.
19. LATIN ABBREVIATIONS,
No one should use these who is not sure that he will not expose his
ignorance by making mistakes with them. Confusion is very common, for
instance, between i.e. and e.g. Again, sic should
never be used except when a reader might really suppose that there was a
misprint or garbling; to insert it simply by way of drawing attention
and conveying a sneer is a very heavy assumption of superiority. Vide
is only in place when a book or dictionary article is being referred to.
Shaliapine, first bass at the same opera, has handed in his
resignation in consequence of this affair, and also because of affairs
in general, vide imprisonment of his great friend Gorki.—Times.
The industrialist organ is inclined to regret that the league did not
fix some definite date such as the year 1910 (sic) or the year 1912,
for the completion of this programme.—Times. (This is the
true use of sic; as the years mentioned are not consecutive, a
reader might suppose that something was wrong; sic tells him
that it is not so)
The Boersen Courier ... maintains that 'nothing remains for M.
Delcassé but to cry Pater peccavi to Germany and to retrieve as
quickly as possible his diplomatic mistake (sic)'.—Times.
Let your principal stops be the full stop and comma, with a judicious
use of the semicolon and of the other stops where they are absolutely
necessary (i. e. you could not dispense with the note of
interrogation in asking questions).—Bygott & Jones. (e. g.
is wanted, not i. e.)