Sent to me by Boots reader Kasia Chalko, this goes with both barrels after E.B. White and William Strunk and their Elements of Style.
I think they've had it coming for awhile for selling so many copies of such a smug book. But the only people who can defend it are professional writers who have found it helpful.*
* My writing teachers were my father, my college professor Jack Null, Larry Ragan, Alden Wood, Mike O'Malley and Digby Whitman. Drinking from those firehoses, I never got around to reading Elements. But I have long used a line from Elements to force me to reread my stuff for clarity: "When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair."
Eileen B. says
I’ve NEVER been able to get through that book. And I’ve read the AP Style Guide willingly! I’ve read other books on style, but that one just sticks in my craw. Good to know I’m not alone.
My father made me read “Elements” when I was in high school. It’s always impressed me as a reasonable reference for amateur writers. (Of course, now I’m panicked that I’m breaking all sorts of grammatical rules in this comment!)
But “Omit needless words,” always struck me as appropriate and necessary.
Pretty good rebuttal here:
The upshot of his argument:
The aim of Elements isn’t to lay down a set of unbreakable laws; it’s to alert writers, especially undergraduate writers, to the most common mistakes that are likely to spoil their writing.
On that level, S&W works well and has been valuable to me.
I completed a PR certificate program at at university a few years back, and in most of the courses, the professors advised us: “if you don’t already have a dictionary, a thesaurus and a grammer book on your personal book shelf, you should get these” but while some of the profs. recommended specific books, S&W among them, none of them told us we “had” to read that book, and I’ve never actually picked it up.
Although I’ll admit to some grammatical hiccups (I have a pathological thing with misusing “its” and “it’s”) mostly, I know this stuff and use it correctly as well as correcting others writing effectively.
I think my knowledge comes from actually having had childhood school classes in grammar and spelling, but certainly using words for a living, and having other friends and colleagues who do as well has helped in identifying and correcting any lapses in my own knowledge.
David Murray says
To me, the idea of any book teaching people how to write well has always been absurd. Writing well is learned in a million subtle lessons garnered from reading books that are NOT about writing. And it relies on thinking well, which is even harder to teach.
Alas, we who do write better than most by virtue of our trades delight in simple writing advice, like these famous six tips from George Orwell:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.
#6 is my favourite! Gotta love Orwell!
Michael Leddy at Orange Crate Art has a very good rebuttal that makes the original look childish. The writer might learn to read (in context) before getting into the whole writing concept.