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May 24, 2012

The Writing Dead: How to Cite a Deceased (Yet Strangely Prolific) Author

.rev3by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Who is the author of Fowler’s Modern English Usage? (Go ahead and Google it; I’ll just wait here and hum the “Jeopardy” theme until you get back. . . .)

I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a trick question. The classic style guide was written by Henry W. Fowler and published in 1926 as A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It quickly dwarfed most of the competition due to its pithy, antipedantic, and somewhat idiosyncratic advice.*

The name of Fowler became so closely tied to the notion of clear and correct writing that the second edition (1965) was published as Fowler’s Modern English Usage, even though its eponymous author had died in 1933. His presence continues to hover over the work as it approaches the century mark (Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2004). The content has been almost completely rewritten, but it has never gone out of print.

Similarly, H. M. Robert’s Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies was first published in 1876 and is now in its 11th (highly revised) edition. When a work is in its third, fourth, or (in the case of Robert’s Rules of Order) 11th edition, there may not be much left that was actually written by the person who penned the first edition. How should these works be cited? Should we credit the dead hand of the original author or those who carry on the franchise?

The answer follows from one of our basic principles of citation: “Cite what you see.” Whose name is on the cover and/or title page? Unless another role is specified (e.g., editor, compiler), that person—dead or alive—is the author.  Fowler and Robert can rest in peace while their successors carry on.

References

Burchfield, R. W. (2004). Fowler’s modern English usage (3rd ed. rev.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fowler, H. W. (1926). A dictionary of modern English usage. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fowler, H. W., & Gowers, E. (Ed.). (1965). Fowler’s modern English usage (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Robert, H. M. (1876). Pocket manual of rules of order for deliberative assemblies. Chicago, IL: Griggs.

Robert, H. M., III, Honemann, D. H., & Balch, T. J. (2011). Robert’s rules of order newly revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Perseus Books.


*E.g., “To shrink with horror from ending [a sentence] with a preposition is no more than foolish superstition; but there are often particular reasons for not choosing that alternative” (Fowler, 1926, p. 635).

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