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Yes! we have no mandamus

I’ve got another Garner.

If you have been reading through these posts, you know how highly I regard Bryan Garner’s book on English usage, Garner’s American Usage. It is thorough, thoughtful, comprehensive, and reasonable, and it compels respect even on the occasions when one arrives at a differing judgment about a usage. It is, if you are serious about working as an editor in America, an indispensable book.

But Mr. Garner has not limited his attention to English usage. He is the editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, and many of the twenty books he has written or edited have to do with legal subjects.

It was with pleasure that I found at my door today the new Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (Oxford University Press, 991 pages, $65). As a layman, I expect to rely on its lucid explanation of legal terms.

But Garner on Legal Usage is more than a dictionary. It is also a usage manual, commenting on apt and inept manipulation of the language. The preface to this edition, the third, indicates that not all the writers he cites are pleased: “I have continued to resist the lobbying efforts of certain writers to have citations to their work removed. (Yes, some have actually tried to pressure Oxford University Press with letter-writing campaigns.)”

I’ve only just begun to rummage around in it, and already little treasures are surfacing, such as the Mingle-Mangle entry: “known in erudite legal circles as macaronism, soraismus, or cacozelia, was a common vice of language in early English opinions. It consists in English larded with Latin or French. …”

Garner on Usage used to be my lunchtime serendipitous reading. Now I have another fat volume in which to graze.


Posted by John McIntyre at 2:36 PM | | Comments (2)


On your recommendation, I picked up Garner's American Usage, and find myself using it as both reference and as "grazing" reading materials. The legal usage dictionary looks similarly promising; I'll be on the lookout for it.

I have what must be the first edition but its title is a bit different: A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. Bryan signed it for me at one of his legal writing seminars two decades ago. He gave it to me for free because I answered a question he posed to the class. I returned the favor by giving him a ride to a used bookstore after the seminar.


P.S. I've been reading it off and on for a long time now, and am up to "puisne". I should finish before retirement.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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