Describing Prescriptivism: Usage Guides and Usage Problems in British and American English, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Describing Prescriptivism

Usage Guides and Usage Problems in British and American English, 1st Edition

By Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade


274 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2019-10-24
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Describing Prescriptivism provides a topical and thought-provoking analysis of linguistic prescriptivism in British and American English, from a historical as well as present-day perspective. Focusing on usage guides and usage problems, the book takes a three-fold approach to present an in-depth analysis of the topic, featuring:

  • a detailed study of the advice provided in usage guides over the years;

  • an authoritative comparison of this advice with actual usage as recorded in British and American corpora, including the HUGE (Hyper Usage Guide of English) database – developed specifically to enable this line of study – as well as more mainstream corpora such as COCA, COHA and the BNC;

  • a close analysis of the attitudes to particular usage problems among the general public, based on surveys distributed online through the "Bridging the Unbridgeable" research project’s blog.*

With extensive case studies to illustrate and support claims throughout, this comprehensive study is key reading for students and researchers of prescriptivism, the history of English and sociolinguistics.

*Found at


"A welcome volume on an ever-topical matter – how to avoid the censure of self-appointed guardians of style – by a world authority on the subject. This book can be recommended to everyone interested in the background to widespread ideas about correctness in language."

Raymond Hickey, University of Duisburg and Essen, Germany

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. The origin of the usage guide

Chapter 3. The usage guide – and the HUGE database

Chapter 4. The writers and the publishers

Chapter 5. Usage problems: pet linguistic peeves

Chapter 6. The language of prescriptivism

Chapter 7. Public awareness of prescriptivism

Chapter 8. The end of prescriptivism?

Appendix 1. Feedback on a blogpost (January 2015)

Appendix 2. Usage problems in the HUGE database

Appendix 3. Usage guide writers interviewed

Appendix 4. Usage guide writers’ credentials

Appendix 5. The metalinguistic categories from Sundby et al. (1991)



About the Author

Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade is Chair in English Sociohistorical Linguistics, University of Leiden, The Netherlands, and has published extensively on the latter end of the English standardisation process.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General