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Henry Watson Fowler (10 March 1858 – 26 December 1933) was an English schoolmaster, lexicographer and commentator on the usage of the English language. He is notable for both A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and his work on the Concise Oxford Dictionary, and was described by The Times as "a lexicographical genius".

After an Oxford education, Fowler was a schoolmaster until his middle age and then worked in London as a freelance writer and journalist, but was not very successful. In partnership with his brother Francis, and beginning in 1906, he began publishing seminal grammar, style and lexicography books. After his brother's death in 1918, he completed the works on which they had collaborated and edited additional works.

Rugby School, where Fowler studied from 1871 to 1877

Henry Fowler spent some time at a boarding school in Germany before enrolling at Rugby School in 1871. He concentrated on Latin and Greek, winning a school prize for his translation into Greek verse of part of Percy Bysshe Shelley's play Prometheus Unbound. He also took part in drama and debating and in his final year served as head of his house, School House. He was greatly inspired by one of his classics teachers, Robert Whitelaw, with whom he kept up a correspondence later in life.[2]

In 1877 Fowler began attending Balliol College, Oxford. He did not excel at Oxford as he had at Rugby, earning only second-class honours in both Moderations and Literae Humaniores. Although he participated little in Oxford sport, he did begin a practice that he was to continue for the rest of his life: a daily morning run followed by a swim in the nearest body of water. He left Oxford in 1881, but was not awarded a degree until 1886, because he failed to pass his Divinity examination.[3]

Teaching

In 1903, he moved to the island of Guernsey, where he worked with his brother Francis George Fowler. Their first joint project was a translation of the works of Lucian of Samosata.[13] The translation, described by The Times as of "remarkable quality" was taken up by the Oxford University Press and published in four volumes in 1905.[14] Their next work was The King's English (1906), a book meant to encourage writers to be stylistically simple and direct and not to misuse words. This book "took the world by storm".[13]

Fowler collected some of his journalistic articles into volumes and published them pseudonymously, including More

In 1903, he moved to the island of Guernsey, where he worked with his brother Francis George Fowler. Their first joint project was a translation of the works of Lucian of Samosata.[13] The translation, described by The Times as of "remarkable quality" was taken up by the Oxford University Press and published in four volumes in 1905.[14] Their next work was The King's English (1906), a book meant to encourage writers to be stylistically simple and direct and not to misuse words. This book "took the world by storm".[13]

Fowler collected some of his journalistic articles into volumes and published them pseudonymously, including More Popular Fallacies (1904) by "Quillet", and Si mihi —! (1907) by "Egomet". In 1908, on his fiftieth birthday, he married Jessie Marian Wills (1862–1930). It was an exceptionally happy, but childless, marriage.

Fowler collected some of his journalistic articles into volumes and published them pseudonymously, including More Popular Fallacies (1904) by "Quillet", and Si mihi —! (1907) by "Egomet". In 1908, on his fiftieth birthday, he married Jessie Marian Wills (1862–1930). It was an exceptionally happy, but childless, marriage.[15][16]

The Oxford University Press commissioned from the Fowler brothers a single-volume abridgement of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which was published as the Concise Oxford Dictionary in 1911.[17][13] The Concise Oxford has remained in print ever since, being regularly revised.[15]

The next commission for the brothers was a much smaller, pocket-sized abridgement of the OED at the same time they were working on Modern English Usage; work on both began in 1911, with Henry Fowler concentrating on Modern English Usage and Francis on the pocket dictionary. Neither work was complete at the start of World War I.[13][18]

In 1914, Fowler and his younger brother volunteered for service in the British army. To gain acceptance, the 56-year-old Henry lied about his age.[16] Both he and Francis were invalided out of the army in 1916 and resumed work on Modern English Usage. In 1918, Francis died aged 47 of tuberculosis, contracted during service with the BEF. After his brother's death, Henry Fowler and his wife moved to Hinton St George in Somerset,[16] where he worked on the Pocket Oxford Dictionary and Modern English Usage, which he dedicated to his brother.[19]

Later years

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, considered by many to be the definitive style guide to the English language, "made the name of Fowler a household word in all English-speaking countries".[20] The Times described it as a "fascinating, formidable book".[21] Winston Churchill directed his officials to read it.[20] The success of the book was such that the publishers had to reprint it three times in the first year of publ

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, considered by many to be the definitive style guide to the English language, "made the name of Fowler a household word in all English-speaking countries".[20] The Times described it as a "fascinating, formidable book".[21] Winston Churchill directed his officials to read it.[20] The success of the book was such that the publishers had to reprint it three times in the first year of publication, and there were a further twelve reprints before a second edition was finally commissioned in the 1960s.[22] [23]

On the death of its original editor in 1922, Fowler helped complete the first edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, under the editorship of Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, under the editorship of C.T. Onions.[24]

In 1929 Fowler republished Si mihi—! under his own name as If Wishes were Horses, and another volume of old journalistic articles under the title Some Comparative Values.[13]

On 26 December 1933, Fowler died at his home, "Sunnyside", Hinton St George, England, aged 75.

Currently, The King's English and Modern English Usage remain in print. The latter was updated by Sir Ernest Gowers for the second edition (1965) and largely rewritten by Robert Burchfield for the third (1996). A Pocket edition (ISBN 0-19-860947-7) edited by Robert Allen, based on Burchfield's edition, is available online to subscribers of the Oxford Reference On-line Premium collection.

A biography of Fowler was published in 2001 called The Warden of English. The author was Jenny McMorris (1946–2002), archivist to the Oxford English Dictionary at the Oxford University Press. The Times described the book as "an acclaimed and meticulously researched biography".<

A biography of Fowler was published in 2001 called The Warden of English. The author was Jenny McMorris (1946–2002), archivist to the Oxford English Dictionary at the Oxford University Press. The Times described the book as "an acclaimed and meticulously researched biography".[25] The Word Man, a play about Fowler's life and career by the writer Chris Harrald, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Afternoon Play on 17 January 2008.[26]