I consider Garner’s Modern American Usage one of the most important (and probably most underused) resources available to copyeditors. There’s no easier place to sort out distinctions between easily confusable terms such as far-flung and far-fetched; percent and percentage; or turbid, turgid, turpid, and torpid.
It contains highly useful “mini-essays” providing guidance on handling other language-y things like appositives, back-formations, danglers, latinisms, and nonwords.
It also includes a plainspoken glossary of language-related terms. Ever wonder what exactly a linking verb is? Or how to effectively explain passive voice? Garner’s has your answers.
Finally, Garner’s provides practical guidance on how copyeditors should approach our ever-changing language. For example, when should let an evolving usage stand (“decimate” to mean “destroy”) and when we should fight against it (“incentivize” to mean “motivate”)?
But here’s what should really make editors who work digitally (that’s all of us nowadays, right?) rejoice: Garner’s is now available online. For a subscription fee of pennies per day, editors can get Garner’s Modern American Usage, plus Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, New Hart’s Rules (U.S. edition), and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, searchable and in full at the Oxford Dictionaries website.
If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay for the last word on issues that stump even the best of editors. Read excerpts from GMAU or sign up for access here.
Samantha is president of Dragonfly Editorial.