Leafing Through Shade and Shadow

On the finesse of Fowler’s Dictionary and on the art of leafing through a book.


I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may.

—Dracula in Bram Stoker’s eponymous novel.

Shade and shadow. Different or same? Similar? How?

Fowler’s admits they have an almost identical meaning which branches out into a considerable diversity of idiom. Well put, if hardly illuminating. But his mnemonic “clue” to their difference does enlighten.

shade, shadow, nn. The details of this diversity are too many to be catalogued here, but it is a sort of clue to remember that shadow is a piece of shade, related to it as, e.g., pool to water.

So shade fills a shadow to the brim and no farther, and while shadow belongs to a concrete object, shade belongs to the world.

The pool-water analogy is not as trifling as it seems. It’s almost poetic.

The image I actually have in mind is David Hockney’s Pool with Two Figures from 1971.


The Nectars of Paradise was meant to be the last post in this series about Fowler’s Dictionary. In researching it, however, I happened on the shade entry with its gem of an analogy and that made me realise something: I’d forgotten to complete the minimum act of love shown to any book I take seriously. I hadn’t leafed through the entire Dictionary!

Leafing through a book, be it 70 pages of fiction or 700 pages of dictionary, is an affair not to be underestimated. It requires stamina, patience, wakefulness, and a winnowing sensibility that is at odds with any form of perfectionism. When to skip, when to glance, when to read. When to take a note. When to take a break. It’s also the sore admittance of defeat under the weight of time: a limited life is what I have and humble about it I must be.

But if done with mindful dedication and focus, leafing through is a form of meditation.

It is also an art, and one that I can only practice so much in a personal library deficient of unread—more precisely, never-to-be-completely-read—books.

So I am grateful for my copy of Folwer’s.


What follows are the best, easily quotable (and meaningfully truncated) entries starting with a particularly fecund letter: f.

I take it you’d rather be a faun than a satyr?

Faun, satyr, are Latin and the Greek names for woodland creatures, half beast and half man in form, half beast and half god in nature. Horse’s tail and ears, goat’s tail and horns, goat’s ears and tail and legs, budding horns, are various symbols marking not the difference between the two, but that between either of them and man. The faun is now regarded rather as the type of unsophisticated and the satyr of unpurified man; the first is man still in intimate communion with Nature, the second is man still swayed by bestial passions.

Flouting flaunters flaunt their flouting. Calligraphers, take out your fountain pens and let the fl-s flow.

Flaunt, flout. To flaunt is to make a parade of, to show off; to flout is to display a contemptuous disregard for. Perhaps the origin of the confusion is that the same action may sometimes be described by either verb: the flouter may flaunt his flouting.

I admit so far I’ve only ever talked of flurrying flakes, feathers, petals. I shall add flurried people to my vocabulary.

Flurried, flustered, fluttered. There is often a doubt which is the most appropriate word; the following distinctions are offered:
A person is flurried who, with several things to attend to, lets each interfere with the others; a person is flustered (possibly fuddled with drink) in whom different impulses or emotions contend for expression; a person is fluttered who, being of a timid or apprehensive disposition, is confronted with a sudden emergency.

Tell me, what is foam and what is froth?

Foam, froth. The natural definition of foam would be the froth of the sea, and that of froth the foam of beer. That is to say, foam suggests the sea, forth suggests beer, and while one word is appropriate to the grand of the beautiful or the violent, the other is appropriate to the homely or the ordinary or the dirty. One demands of foam that it be white; froth may be of what colour it pleases. Froth may be scum, but foam, though it may become scum, ceases to be foam in the process. It is perhaps also true that froth is though of mainly as part of a liquid that has sent it to the top, and foam as a separate substance often detached from its source in the act of making. But the difference is much less in the meanings than the subtle contexts.


Fowler’s himself, itself, of the fluid and capital F, is much about the subtle contexts and the subtle sense for language. Of course word-meanings fluctuate, as do manners, as do the idiosyncrasies of style so freely given to blooming in the Dictionary’s entries, but in each era, and over all eras eventually, the subtleties of those fluctuations are precisely the unstable ground on which humanity builds its defining strongholds. A dog knows to find a sunless spot, but only a human thinks of throwing a shadow while sitting in the shade.

When stripped of the cumbersome, the finicky, and the outdated—even when stripped of everything that’s remotely technically relevant—a singular message remains in my 1968 Folwer’s: be clear, but not clever by half, and above all enjoy that which English has to offer, from the shortest particle to the longest passage. Really, it is a message of linguistic love.

Pass the word.



This is the last post of a series about the second (1968) edition of Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H. W. Fowler, as revised by Sir Ernest Gowers.

  1. Prefer the Obvious to its Obvious Avoidance: On density of style, and where to find advice on style.
  2. Every Chance of Going Wrong: On various writing pitfalls.
  3. It Is True That Words Are Cheap: On synonymia, tautology, circumlocution, pleonasm, meaningless words, and pairs of commonly confused words.
  4. Does It Come off?: On verbless sentences.
  5. Elegant Variation: Editing out repeating words, as guided by Fowler’s advice.
  6. Euphemism and Euphuism: On the merits and masks of euphemisms (and what euphuism is).
  7. The Nectars of Paradise: what are the adjectives derived from nectar and paradise?
  8. Leafing Through Shade and Shadow


Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of https://quiverquotes.com

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