This book is in the main a reconstruction of my two previous books, Plain Words and ABC of Plain Words. Both these, as I explained in the prefaces to them, were written at the invitation of the Treasury as a contribution to what they were doing to improve official English. The first was by way of an introduction to the subject; the second was designed as a work of reference. When my publishers told me last year that the time was ripe for a new edition of Plain Words, I thought it would be well to round off the venture by weaving into the new edition material from the ABC. I could then say all I had to say in one volume, and, by giving it the index which the original edition lacked, could make it serve as a book of reference, and so do away with the need for a separate book with the layout, inevitably unattractive, of a series of unrelated topics arranged alphabetically.
I am not a grammarian, and The Complete Plain Words, like its predecessors, makes no claim to be a grammar of the English Language, though for reasons I have explained in the text I felt bound reluctantly and diffidently, to give one chapter to some points of grammar and one to punctuation. Apart from these two chapters, this book is wholly concerned with what is described in one of the quotations that head the first chapter as the choice and arrangement of words in such a way as to get an idea as exactly as possible out of one mind into another. Even so I must not be credited with too high an ambition: the scope of the book is circumscribed by its being intended primarily for those who use words as tools of their trade, in administration or business.
I have made full use of this opportunity to revise what I wrote before by alteration, by omission, and especially by the addition of new matter. In doing so I have profited from reading books on kindred subjects since published, and I tender my grateful acknowledgment to their authors. They are among the books listed in the bibliography on page 200. But above all I am indebted to the many correspondents from all parts of the English-speaking world who have been good enough to respond to my invitation to send me suggestions, criticisms and specimens. I have thanked them all individually by letter, and I should have liked to print a list of their names here as a perpetual token of my gratitude for their kindness. But they are too numerous. Many of them, if they read this book, will recognise passages in it as their own contributions, and I would ask them to treat this discovery as conveying a message of special thanks from me to them.
But I must make one or two exceptions to the anonymity of my gratitude. Kind letters from fellow-workers in the same field gave me particular pleasure: among these were Mr. Ivor Brown, Mr. V. H. Collins, Dr. Rudolph Flesch, Mr. Frank Jones and Mr. Henry Strauss, M.P. (now Lord Conesford). And I must record my deep obligation to that master-craftsman of the English language, my friend Mr. G. M. Young: the frequency with which references to him occur in the following pages imperfectly reflects the debt I owe him for his encouragement and advice. I must also repeat the thanks I expressed in my previous prefaces to Dr. Wyn Griffith for continuing to allow me to draw on his wise council, and to him and to my brother, Sir William Gowers, for being good enough to read the proofs and making many valuable suggestions. Finally I am most grateful to Sir Gordon Welch, lately Controller of the Stationery Office, and to Mr. H. G. Carter, late of that Office, for the keen interest they have shown in this book and the great trouble they have taken over its preparation.