Road Test: 'Modern Australian Usage: a Practical Guide for Writers and Editors'

ModernAusUsageI think it's fair to say that when I accepted the challenge of reviewing Nicholas Hudson's Modern Australian Usage, the chances of me sitting down and reading the whole book sequentially from A-Z were slim. I am not naturally a 'beginning to end' reference book reader and have been known to lose hours following strangely connected paths through reference books. There's something about the lure of a cross-reference I just can't resist. In addition to my own reading predilections, Modern Australian Usage is presented as a 'practical guide for writers and editors' so my approach has been to test that assertion, using it as my first choice of reference for any writing, editing, usage or publishing conundrums that arose during the last five weeks.

The verdict is a very positive one. Modern Australian Usage is easy to navigate and understand. The coverage of grammatical, linguistic, legal, printing and usage issues is broad and practical, in fact the extensive knowledge Hudson imparts in just 439 tightly packed pages is impressive. His approach is also quite pragmatic. In some cases, he provides differing points of view that allow you to make a decision appropriate to your own context; in others he offers a definitive answer or explains his own preference.

It is a great sign that there were only a few questions throughout the course of my month's trial run that I didn't find answers for in the book, and many of these were the kinds of issues that Hudson himself points out in the preface are better resolved by a style manual or dictionary anyway. This is a fabulous resource for writers and editors - young or old - there is no denying that.

If you like your reference books less chatty, however, this may not be the first title you reach for when you need a quick answer. Hudson's voice is endearing and often amusing, but at the same time I found some of the entries a little off-putting. For example, the beginning of the description of the role of 'the publisher's editor' under the entry 'editor': 'Book editing is like a Chinese meal - it can theoretically continue indefinitely. The first essential is to know where to start; the second is to know when to stop'. While the observation is accurate, inclusions like this sometimes fell a little flat for my taste.

Despite this minor quibble, and it is very minor, Modern Australian Usage would be a well-used, practical addition to any editor's professional library, and it also provides a lovely way to spend a few hours. Allowing myself to whimsically follow threads of interest led me on some great journeys. 'Proper nouns' led to 'foreign words', which sent me to 'pinyin', which finished on the same page as 'ploddery', referring me to 'pleonasm' and then 'officialese', 'legal language', 'copyright' and 'quotations' ...

Modern Australian Usage: open it with caution when you're in a hurry.

Sandra Duncanson

Modern Australian Usage: A practical guide for writers and editors (3rd ed) Nicholas Hudson, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2015, RRP $35.00