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Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Warden of English


Padma went down to the Bay to meet old friends from Cobargo for coffee and cake. I tagged along, not for the coffee and cake, but to visit my favourite shop, Vinnies, where I struck gold: "The Warden of English", the first full biography of Henry Watson Fowler, one of the most influential figures in the history of the development of the English language.

The schoolboy who wonders at the difference between a semi-colon and its cousin; the secretary who needs to know if it is better to write alright or all right; the noisy uncle who wants to settle 'once and for all' the vexing argumentation over the split infinitive; or me drafting a PWA consulting report in steamy Penang and wondering if I should have used me or I - we all turned to the blue volume known as "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage", but which we all called simply "Fowler". My portable OLYMPIA typewriter, Roget's Thesaurus, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage and I were inseparable.

The way home was all bumper-to-bumper, with hundreds of cars sporting the Canberra licence plate choking the approaches to Batemans Bay for the start of what promises to be a hot long weekend. Good-bye to social distancing and good-bye to peace and quiet on the river!

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