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[[ Free Pdf ]] The Elements of StyleAuthor William Strunk Jr. –

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10 thoughts on “The Elements of Style

  1. says:

    This book is good for the following things:

    1. Propping up a short table leg

    2. Lining a bird cage

    3. Building a fire

    4. Using as a coaster for cold drinks

    I devoted some of my grammar thesis to criticizing this book, and it was time well spent.

    Geoff Nunberg may have said it best: "The weird thing is to see rules like these passed down as traditional linguistic wisdom. Take that edict that you ought to say "10 persons" rather than "10 people." You can still find it in the recent editions of Strunk and White's revered Elements of Style, along with antique admonitions against saying "contact us" or calling something "worthwhile." The linguist Arnold Zwicky calls these zombie rules. Somebody should have run them through a wood chipper long ago, but here we are in 2010 assigning students a style guide that tells them that correct English requires them to write, "There were 5,000 screaming persons at the Lady Gaga concert."

  2. says:

    I remember, my Freshman year, sitting in the Music Building lounge waiting for my next class when Maryanne came crashing in, with an appropriate amount of chaos, announcing to all “Oh crap, I can’t find my Strunk and White.” Everyone else in the room apparently knew what she was talking about, but I sat with a blank stare. A few weeks latter my required English 101 professor insisted we hit the bookstore and buy ‘The Elements of Style.’ We were to treat it like the Holy Grail of grammar, carry it with us at all times, sleep with it, and consider it our eternal faithful lover. This would become the first of many copies of Strunk & White that have come and gone in my life. I think at one time I actually had four copies. Maryanne, made a similar pontification in the same lounge a month later “Oh no, I have lost my Boosey & Hawkes”* which I did understand. It may have sounded more erotic than Strunk & White but certainly less dramatic. For me Boosies and Hawksies came and went, but Strunks and Whites have remained constant.

    This year, for my birthday, I received yet another copy. Only this edition is hardback and Illustrated! At first I thought: how queer can this be? It has got to be a mistake. It’s a grammar book! This had to be a novel, a book on fashion, or something sharing a name. Nope. Same Strunk & White – only this time with pictures.

    Over the years, I have acquired other books on grammar (even one on Pittsburgh diction—go figure) but none can compare. The Elements of Style is concise, easy to understand and practically perfect. It’s the best. Ever.

    And a very clever artist has figured out how to illustrate sentence fragments, misused words, the hyphen, participle phrases and lots of other teeth gritting English stumbling blocks—in a very Magritte sort of way.

    Yet, there is one thing, even the most excellent book, won’t be able to do, as, my friends will attest, and this, would be, comma abuse, of which, I am the Master.

    *It’s a Music Publisher

  3. says:

    There must be some structure to language. We must agree on some aspects of it, and creating rules and definitions around those mutual agreements helps to foster intelligibility throughout the language.

    Likewise, this agreement to abide by these rules means that we can teach communication. This does not mean only in the case of children, but it certainly simplifies it for them. This also means that writers can continue to learn, to interact, and to write understandably and not wastefully.

    We take these rules from traditions, but also from common sense. Strunk's rulings on word use (especially amongst words with similar meanings) are based on the root words, and the original meanings. Strunk means to separate these similar words so that instead of synonyms, we have two similar but precise words.

    This also prevents confusion, as various English dialects may take these words in different ways, but all share the same roots.

    However, language changes constantly, so regulating it and placing rules on it is difficult. Many feel that it stifles creativity, or that it places hegemonic power in the hands of the elite. One benefit of this regulation is that we can read Shakespeare today with little trouble.

    Dictionaries came into popularity around the time of Shakespeare, as did the study of philology. We have more trouble reading Chaucer, even though only two-hundred years separate Chaucer and Shakespeare, while twice that length separates Shakespeare from us.

    The work of Strunk and White is not to close off language, nor to set it absolutely free, but to make a linguistic analysis of its forms, meanings and changes, but one that the layman can appreciate. The work is somewhat dated by today's standards, but this actually provides the perfect example for many of the book's observations on the mutability of language.

    It likewise supports the assertion that language may change, but not as much as you might think. Strunk and White is just as useful to an author today as it was when it was compiled.

    It is light-hearted and often humorous, and presents language and communication in a thoughtful way. Any writer should come away from this book with a new respect for language, and with a keener eye for seeing their own writing.

    While the book sometimes seems severe in its regulations, this is only because misuse is so rampant and so ugly. Similarly, someone might tell you "under no circumstances should you balance on a chair on the edge of the roof of a ten story building". This rule is perfectly reasonable, despite the fact that some well-trained, adventurous individuals are quite capable of this feat.

    The fact remains that for the majority, violating these simple rules will result in an unsightly mess. A talented and experienced writer can flaunt and even break the rules when it suits him. The greatest writers do, and this book gives examples of how and why they do it.

    However, rules are how we create meaning. Whether you follow them or break them, you must know them and understand how they work in order to communicate to your reader. You cannot subvert and idea unless you understand it, and you cannot communicate anything to your reader that doesn't have a basis in their experiences and understanding.

    There is no impressive act of creation that is not conscious and considered, because rebellion cannot happen in a void. It's the rule that proves the exception.

  4. says:

    “It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric”, says professor Strunk. The old fart was probably referring to his students at Cornell University. The Elements of Style is indeed a dusty textbook (1918), but still widely in use today. It aims at providing a set of rules and tips on how to write properly, if not elegantly. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, strongly recommends this book to any aspiring fiction writer.

    In truth, such rules as, for instance, the pre-eminence of the active over the passive voice, or the superiority of the positive over the negative mode in a sentence (which, at the time, were perhaps not as evident), have become the sesame of communication, advocated at school, in business and even in spelling and grammar software.

    Some of Strunk’s remarks are amusing, sarcastic even, like this one on the use of the word Nature: “Often vaguely used in such expressions as “a lover of nature;” “poems about nature.” Unless more specific statements follow, the reader cannot tell whether the poems have to do with natural scenery, rural life, the sunset, the untracked wilderness, or the habits of squirrels.”

    While this hodgepodge of rules is at best a bit arbitrary and, at worst, quite outdated, the core of it all is to prompt students to write boldly, confidently, legibly, with crispness and vigour, and avoid fizzling out with sloppy writing — nothing wrong about that.

  5. says:

    In her charming essay, "Insert a Carrot", Anne Fadiman describes a trait shared by everyone in her family - a heightened sensitivity to the flaws in other people's writing. The Fadimans all belong to that tribe whose members cannot read without simultaneously copy-editing. When dining out, they amuse each other by pointing out typos on the menu. It might seem obnoxious, but really they just can't help it. If you're blessed with the copy-editing gene you can't just switch it off.

    I have the same problem. When I read, typographical and grammatical errors leap off the page, assailing my eyeballs, demanding to be noticed. A distraction that I am incapable of ignoring, they hijack my attention and diminish my respect for the author. I want my own writing to be free of such distractions; it should be forceful and persuasive. I welcome constructive advice that helps me attain that goal. My copy of "Modern American Usage" is grubby and well-thumbed. I think its author, Bryan A. Garner, has accomplished something quite remarkable. He has written a usage guide that gives writers clear, concrete, reasoned advice, without being overly dogmatic or erring on the side of sloppiness. I hate sloppy writing.

    I also hate Strunk and White. Its popularity is inexplicable to me. Here are just a few of my objections:

    1. Their famous motto, "Omit needless words", is fatuous and has absolutely no practical value. (If I knew how to do this, I'd already be some kind of great communication guru.) Repeating this essentially vapid advice in similarly empty formulations like "Be clear" and "Don't explain too much" is of no practical help to anybody, and suggests that even the authors have difficulty in deciphering their own admonitions.

    2. The stylistic tips that are not simply platitudinous are often just silly, hopelessly vague, or reflective of the long outdated prejudices of a couple of old white dudes.

    For example -

    Do not inject opinion.
    Prefer the standard to the offbeat.
    Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
    Write with nouns and verbs.
    Don't construct awkward adverbs.
    Avoid fancy words.
    Use figures of speech sparingly.
    Do not overwrite.

    Having trouble figuring out whether your ear is "good", your adverb is "awkward", or your writing is "over"? Good luck with that. S & W will be of no help whatsoever. Why not?

    3. The examples used to illustrate "bad" style in the book are generally ludicrously bad. The need for correction is so glaringly obvious that the examples have little instructive value. The authors are well able to demolish straw men, but if you want advice on a subtle point, they are unlikely to be of any practical help.

    4. The fetishistic obsession with avoiding the passive voice is (a) baffling (b) profoundly irritating when some freaking paperclip starts to lecture you about it (c) so obviously idiotic that the authors themselves ignore it throughout the book.

    Other questionable decrees include the ukase that "none" should always take a singular verb, the prohibition on starting a sentence with "however", and the pointless "which/that" discussion.

    These exemplify one of the book's biggest problems, which - to be fair - is not necessarily the authors' fault. It has achieved the status of a kind of sacred text, with all of the problems that result. People become blind to the internal inconsistencies within the text, it gets quoted with the kind of self-righteous zeal characteristic to "true believers" and to similar ends. Instead of stimulating thoughtful discussion, S & W is wielded as a weapon to end it. Which might not be so terrible if the advice it contains were not so vague, idiosyncratic and frequently inconsistent. Probably the most infuriating aspect of writing our book was my co-author's continual invocation of Strunk and White as the final arbiter. One can only wonder by whose authority these two gentlemen were anointed God.

    In a cunning marketing gimmick, the latest edition of Strunk and White has been jazzed up by including illustrations by Maira Kalman. Ms Kalman is a delightful artist, whose work elsewhere I greatly admire. But she really should have said no to this particular project. Her illustrations are occasionally pretty, sometimes baffling, but generally pointless. They add no particular insight, though some readers may find them a welcome distraction from the barked eccentricities of the book's two main authors.

  6. says:

    The gold standard. No more need be said than to quote Mr. Strunk's thoughts under the headline "Omit Needless Words":

    "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the reader make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

    And every word of Mr. Strunk's (as updated and expanded by the brilliant and self-effacing E.B. White) indeed does tell.

    Don't touch your keyboard without reading this book!

  7. says:

    This is a wonderful book for beginning writers to use as a guide. It cleary spells out the rules of English grammar, and provides examples to explain each guideline. I highly recommend this little gem! I bought this book at special price from here:

  8. says:

    I still remember, and will always remember, my 11th grade English class. Before that year, English class had meant little more than vocabulary tests, book reports, and those five-paragraph (hamburger) essays. But this class was different. Our teacher was not interested in getting us to pass a standardized test; instead, she wanted to really teach us how to read and write.

    To my astonishment, I realized that nobody had ever done that before. I had been taught how to write a five-paragraph essay, but not how to write. I had been taught how to pass tests on books, but not how to read them. Writing formulaic essays and passing multiple-choice tests requires certain skills: brute memorization and learning by rout. But reading and writing require something much different: a sensitivity to the written word. Integral to developing this sensitivity was reading this slim volume.

    The Elements of Style is normally billed as a kind of guidebook or instruction manual—these are the rules of grammar; these are the rules of style: follow them and you will produce good writing. And, indeed, this is how the book is formatted. But half of Strunk’s rules of grammar and usage are hopelessly outdated; the other half will probably be outdated in another fifty years. What’s more, how can anyone hope to encapsulate ‘good style’, since highly respected authors have written an enormous variety of styles?

    No; the value of this book lies neither in its rules of grammar nor of style. It is valuable because Strunk and White cherish language. Consider this quote: “The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.” Now, this may or may not be true; I’m not saying it isn’t. My point is that, regardless, what’s important is Strunk’s attitude—that he cared deeply enough about writing to sit down and describe the feelings evoked by punctuation. To my high school self, this was beyond belief.

    Strunk felt that writing was about communication—getting your point across fully without wasting the reader’s time. Say what you will about him, he was not a hypocrite; this little book can be read in one sitting. In fact, so fully does this book live up to its author’s ideals, that the reader gets a full dose of his personality. When reading Strunk's taut bullet points—“Put statements into positive form!” “Omit needless words!”—you can almost hear him yelling them in a crowded classroom—his voice harsh and nasal, his skin pale, his face cleanly shaven, wearing a tweed jacket and tapping the lectern with an open palm.

    “Omit needless words!” he says again, this time with a slight grin. And with that grin, you both realize the obvious: that he’s secretly thankful for all the writers who don’t abide by his principles; otherwise, he would have nothing to be grumpy about.

    The point is not that you write this way or that; the point is that you care about the way you choose.

  9. says:

    It is very good for what it does, which is advise on how to write clearly and concisely. But generations of writers have completely misunderstood its purpose and used it as a Bible of Good Writing. It's not. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum has famously gone on something of a crusade against The Elements of Style, and while he makes good points, it may be a little unfair to blame S&W for the fact that writers don't realize the original authors were addressing an audience of barely-literate college students. If you are a fiction writer, S&W's advice should be taken with a very large grain of salt — if you try to write novels using The Elements of Style as your guide, you will probably write very cleanly and correctly but very badly.

  10. says:

    Rating: 5* of five

    The essential guide to HOW to write! How much better to start with a guide to achieving an effect you're looking for.