Anyone want outdated editing reference books?

In the early 1990s, my first years as a publications editor at Northwestern University, our then manager had each of us four editors list the editing reference books we owned. Up to that point in my career, all I had used were the Associated Press Stylebook and a dictionary.

I came to Northwestern from newspaper reporting and, earlier, a few years each in university and public radio public relations offices. My former bosses were not language mavens, and Northwestern’s standards were rigorous. Seeing my colleagues’ lengthy reference lists embarrassed me.

Determined to compile a respectable editing library, I researched recommendations and acquired more than two dozen books for editors and writers. (They’re listed below.)

The reality was that I seldom opened any of them, finding a style guide (the Chicago Manual of Style is used at Northwestern) and a dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) sufficient.

Moreover, references went digital while I worked at Northwestern. An editor friend says she never uses the printed version of the Chicago Manual anymore. The online manual is literally at her fingertips.

Of course it’s not just my profession that saw the change to online resources. “Sources that reference librarians used to consult on a daily or weekly and sometimes hourly basis are sitting on our shelves collecting dust,” noted librarian David A. Tyckoson in Reference Reborn: Breathing New Life into Public Services Librarianship.

It wasn’t surprising that when I offered my editing collection to my former colleagues, none of them wanted it.

My next thought was to offer the books on Craigslist to a word person, however he or she defines that. Making a list for a possible posting revealed that nothing I have was published more recently than 17 years ago. No respectable editor is going to consult an out-of-date usage guide. Only the thesauruses, the volumes of quotations, and the writing improvement books might still be useful.

Maybe there’s someone out there who studies the history of editing reference books (long shot). If you’re that someone, the following are yours for the asking:

Rodale’s Synonym Finder (1978)
Roget’s International Thesaurus, 5th edition (1992)
Roget’s Superthesaurus, 2nd edition (1998)
Rosalie Maggio’s The Bias-Free Word Finder (1991)
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1980)
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1980)
The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991)
The New International Dictionary of Quotations (1993)
Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage (1975)
Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage (1966)
Margaret Nicholson’s A Dictionary of American-English Usage (1957)
Margaret M. Bryant’s Current American Usage (1962)
New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1998)
Oxford English (1992)
Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 5th edition (1982)
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 5th edition (1999)
Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, 4th edition (2000)
Arthur Plotnik’s The Elements of Editing (1982)
Margaret Shertzer’s The Elements of Grammar (1986)
Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition (2003)
Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (2002)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition (1993)
Harbrace College Handbook (1994)
Words into Type (1964)
Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer (1965) and Watch Your Language (1958)
John Williams’s Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 2nd edition (1981)
William Zinsser’s On Writing Well (1985) and Writing with a Word Processor (1983)
Claire Kehrwald Cook’s Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing (1985)
William Safire’s On Language (1981)
Jacques Barzun’s Simple and Direct (1975)

In the likely event that I don’t find a home for the books, knowing that they're outmoded makes me feel better about taking them to a thrift store.



This post marks a milestone: the 100th anti-Trump comment. This feature was launched because I wanted to do something to oppose our horrid president but doubted I could say anything that opinion writers had not already.

For the 100th quotation, I looked for something that would sum up Trump’s odiousness. In 2017 ABC News asked Americans about what word best describes their impression of Trump. Here are the 10 most common responses, 8 of them negative:


Sunday’s Chicago Tribune also contained a good summation in a marvelous letter from an anti-Trump born-again Christian. To read it, scroll down to the second letter. I keep hoping for more evangelicals like the writer to come forward.


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  • Hi, Marianne, If your offer still stands, I have room and an active home for Safire, Zinsser (which I'd been thinking of buying) and the 1980 Bartlett's (several decades younger than one I inherited). Let's set up a meeting by e-mail (or send me your phone number that way.)

  • Sure, Margaret. Call or text me at 773-743-3392 and we'll arrange a time and place to do the transfer. I'm in the South Loop. Hope we find somewhere convenient. It will be nice to meet you.

    Your saying you were thinking of buying Zinsser makes me wonder whether I'm foolish to give my editing/writing books away. But I truly was not reading them.

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