The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage, 2nd ed.

Pam peters | 2007 | isbn 978 0 52170 242 3 (PBK)

So, you’re writing in Australia for local readers, and you strike a few language questions as you progress. Is that word spelt manoeuvre or maneuver? What is it that’s wrong with He could of saved some time? And is your historical story fictional or fictitious?

If you’re serious about your writing, these are important questions. You don’t want to confuse your readers, appear unprofessional or embarrass yourself. But who can advise you, with reliable authority?

(Hint: not Dr Google. Or Wikipedia. There you’ll get answers from anyone and everyone that are usually not focused on the Australian version of English.)

You need a usage guide, and one particular to Australian English, since you’re writing for an Australian readership.

A usage guide is like a style guide, only … different. A style guide covers matters of writing style, while a usage guide covers, would you believe, questions of language usage. (See my previous article to learn about style guides.)

So let me tell you about The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage (2nd edition, 2007) by Professor Pam Peters.

This weighty book (906 pages, and now available for Kindle) is one of my go-to resources for writing and editing. It lists and explains over three thousand queries and quirks of contemporary Australian English.

The entries are in alphabetical order and include prefixes, suffixes, grammar terms, Indigenous terms and alternative spellings. The text is accessible, the explanations clear, and the cross-referencing between entries is logical.

For example, let’s say you’re wondering whether to use leveled or levelled. You turn to page 471, where you’ll see:

leveled or levelled The choice between these is discussed at -l/-ll-.

This is because there are lots of words that cause you to wonder the same thing, so why repeat the explanation under every entry? Off you go to the -l/-ll- entry and find out what to do with pretty much any example of that particular letter-doubling puzzle.

Even though the book was published in 2007, it seems that not much has changed. I’ve rarely had a usage question it didn’t answer.

And the Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage should be good: it’s written by an expert. Pam Peters is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Macquarie University with a long list of academic and general publications to her name, including several usage guides and editions of The Macquarie Dictionary.

Professor Peters initiated and led Macquarie University’s postgraduate program in editing until her retirement in the late 2000s and was on the editorial team for the recently launched Australian Manual of Style.

For quality writing, you want a little library of quality resources. The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage is one to include. (And for other resource ideas, see ‘Writing and editing resources‘.)