Thursday, April 30, 2009

Random Thursday - Elements of Style

On 16 April 2009, Strunk and White's Elements of Style turned 5o years old.

If you've ever taken a high school or college writing class, you probably got very familiar with "Strunk and White." When I first had to use it, I thought "blah, blah, blah, just another grammar book. BORING!"

Many years later, when I went back to school, I had to use it again, and I started reading. I had never realized that the "White" in "Strunk and White" was E.B. White, of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little fame. The introduction by White was tremendously funny. White took writing classes from Strunk. Apparently Strunk was a little man with a big voice and strong opinions. Strunk's most common admonition was "Omit the unnecessary word! Omit the unnecessary word! Omit the unnecessary word!" White says Strunk was so good at omitting the unnecessary words, all his lectures were too short, so he said everything three times.

I still have several copies of Strunk and White, and sometimes just dive into one for pleasure. It's short. Strunk always called it "the little book." It's well written and entertaining.

Many writers adore Strunk and White. Stephen King even mentions Strunk and White pointedly in the introduction to On Writing, and says "...every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style."

Geoffrey Pullam, head of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinbrough, is less than enthusiastic about Strunk and White. He say he "won't be celebrating" the anniversary of the "overopinionated and underinformed little book that put so many people in this unhappy state of grammatical angst." I'm sure Pullam would instead recommend his own book on the topic, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. That tome runs to 1860 pages, and you can snap it up for a mere $187.20, with the discount, on Amazon.

The hardcover Fiftieth Anniversary edition of Strunk and White runs to 128 pages (up from the original 85), and is available on Amazon for $13.27 (with discount.)

What's in your backpack?

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