The most Dorky, wordy Valentine’s Day gift you can give


First of all, you need to know who Bryan Garner is. He is arguably the largest living lexicographer of the English language in the world. I’m not sure the “probably” hedge is needed. Most people who write for a living have a copy of Modern American use of Garner near. He also wrote Garner’s Legal Dictionary, and he runs LawProse, a company that, among other things, teaches lawyers how to write more clearly. D Magazine profiled it in 2007, if you want to know more (and you should).

Then you should know that Garner has a grammar problem because he can’t stop buying them. He started collecting them as a teenager and now has over 1,900 (and 4,000 dictionaries!).

Third, you should know that Garner is owned by the Grolier Club, a 136 year old New York institution that is essentially a book museum. As the website says, the club “was one of the first organizations in America to treat books and prints as worthy exhibits, along with painting and sculpture.” The club sets up four exhibitions per year in its main gallery. It also allows members to show off their collections.

And now that will make sense to you: The dumbest, wordiest Valentine’s Day gift you can give is Taming the Language at the Height of English Grammar (1711-1851), which is the catalog that accompanies an exhibition of Bryan Garner’s grammars at the Grolier Club. See how it all went there?

The exhibition runs from March 4 to May 15. If you don’t live in New York City, the pandemic will likely prevent your presence. Alas. But the 301-page catalog, which can be purchased for $ 45, is a fun read, if you like that sort of thing (and I am). It contains a preface by Garner; seven essays written by people like John Simpson, the former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary; and images of the 100 grammars that will be exhibited at the Grolier Club, accompanied by comments on each written by Garner. A sample, of his commentary on James Harris’ Hermès: Or, A Philosophical Inquiry into Universal Grammar (second edition, 1765):

Known for his nickname “Hermès Harris” – for the work exhibited here – he is generally highly regarded. Few contemporaries share Samuel Johnson’s peremptory rejection of Harris as “a jerk and a bad jerk.” Yet modern readers might find him guilty of the charge. Harris’s self-praise is not in disguise: “He [Harris refers to himself in the third person — a habit called illeism] hope that he can be authorized, that he has rendered a service to mankind. If this service was a reason for his work to survive, he has already confirmed, it would not be an unpleasant event.

Good stuff, right? This guy from Harris was on a trip.

Anyway, hurry up on the book, if you’re interested. The Grolier Club has limited the edition to 950 copies. Mine has the handwritten n ° 275.

The Garner Catalog contains an appendix of “Interesting Works of Art in Unexposed Books”.


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