Elements of Style

To my American colleagues, who recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of their much used Strunk & White style guide, may I gently prod you in the direction of this article by Geoffrey Pullum of the Language Log.

I’ve seen Professor Pullum speak, hilariously, about english grammar and whilst I’m certain that he could find many issues with the content I publish here, I’m certain he would never be nasty or vindictive in his comments. However, in this post, in which he responds to some of the people who have commented about his article, he proves that he has the wit and style to handle such things. Both are well worth a read, even if you don’t agree with his point of view.

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writer zero says:

Hey great link!!!

I agree that Professor Pullum’s response was great. BUT, IMHO, The Elements of Style is sort of the technical writer’s bible – not to be taken literally but the moral guide of our craft ๐Ÿ™‚

Craig says:

I loved his responses to the negative comments more than I enjoyed the original article. I also agree with the comment above. The book in question is more of a moral compass. It is not to be followed literally.

I tend to agree but, alas, the writers of said book don’t suggest that is how it should be taken. Indeed, the opening Introduction (by Mr. White), states that “It was Will Strunk’s… attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and writes its rules and principles on the head of a pin”.

Rules and principles aren’t really the same as “moral guide”… are they?

I believe the writers of the book did their job as they saw fit: They left it up to us to interpret their book. One can take it as gospel and write accordingly. Or, one can take it as as a rule of thumb, as I do, and keep its principles in mind as the moral compass I mentioned earlier.

Craig, I agree your approach is the right one, all I’m pointing out is that Strunk & White is a book about rules and principles. That is more than a “rule of thumb” surely?

Of course every such book is a moral compass of sorts, and everyone will read into the content as much as they desire. Perhaps that is the problem, it’s all down to interpretation!?

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