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View Diary: Bookflurries-Bookchat: Summer Daze Reading (178 comments)

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  •  Why is that? (10+ / 0-)

    White's dictum is (I think) the best thing ever said about writing: you need a good ear to guide you, and the rest is just scaffolding.  

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 06:22:14 PM PDT

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    •  Pico, you might be one of the few (9+ / 0-)

      the exceptional, the literati...


      English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

      by Youffraita on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 06:24:15 PM PDT

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    •  "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Robert Fuller, cfk, Monsieur Georges

      50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

      The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
      I figure, if you really must blame a book for the death of literature, blaming a book on writing is more sensible than blaming a popular novel.
      •  That's a stupid article, though. (5+ / 0-)

        It really is.  I've complained about it on this site before: it misreads S&W entirely.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 07:39:00 PM PDT

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          •  With respect, you should give it another look. (5+ / 0-)

            For one thing, it misreads White's entire thesis - that a good ear trumps any formal grammatical rule, and which he illustrates repeatedly in the book - as a call for pedantry, which it isn't.  It's hardly a "toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity" when the authors keep giving counterexamples to their own "rules" and stress the importance of listening rather than rote repetition.

            For another, the article is so chock-full of mistakes that it's embarrassing.  Here's a long comment I wrote about it when the article first appeared.

            Certainly the stylistic preferences in Elements of Style are growing more old-fashioned by the year - and I guarantee, given White's own writing on the subject, that he'd wholeheartedly agree (see e.g. his section on ending sentences with a preposition) - but the core advice of the book is as solid and useful as ever. Pullum's sloppy jeremiad doesn't change that.

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 08:23:46 PM PDT

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            •  I’ve given it more than a few (4+ / 0-)

              looks and argued the issue with others.  I don’t feel as strongly about it as Pullum, who tends to the polemical anyway, but I have always considered Strunk & White to be somewhere between useless and mildly harmful overall, though not without the occasional useful nugget.  (‘Always’ would be ‘since I first encountered it about 50 years ago.)  I strongly suspect that most people who are in a position genuinely to benefit from it don’t actually need it.

            •  have to disagree with your reading (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Radiowalla, pico, cfk, Monsieur Georges

              I just re-skimmed S&W. It is written and organized (and read) as a "follow these rules" book.

              If White's thesis was "a good ear trumps any rule", he didn't bother to emphasize it, or give it a section, or a heading. He certainly didn't organize the book around that principle. It would be a perfect rule #0, if it was his thesis:

              0. A good ear trumps any rule
              When S&W does make the ear point, it's parenthetically, as a qualification to the rule in discussion. I don't think you can upend the book to make it follow that thesis. It's just not designed around that principle.
              •  Which version of the book do you have? (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cfk, Monsieur Georges

                When White edited Strunk's original, fairly spare version, he included an entire section called "An Approach to Style" which clarifies and contextualizes the book's ethos (Pullum uses this version for his article).  The opening paragraph lays out White's perspective on language:

                There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule by which the young writer may shape his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.
                As he explains throughout the chapter, the rules that Strunk laid out are important for knowing and understanding the mechanics of the language, but they're practices rather than laws, and practices change. But knowing what those practices are, and how they work, is vital for any would-be writers - just as avant-garde painters often begin their training by copying the classics.

                Outside of EoS, he elaborated on this in his famous essay, "The Living Language", which I've quoted plenty of times on this site:

                The living language is like a cowpath: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay in the narrow path she helped make, following the contour of the land, but she often profits by staying with it and she would be handicapped if she didn't know where it was or where it led to.
                Is some of EoS stuffy and archaic? Sure. Even when it was written it was stuffy and archaic.  There's also a definite tension between the two authors. Strunk had produced a slim and pretty dry guide for writing in the absence of any kind of market for it. White rescued the book, softened the edges and opened up the book's purpose considerably, but I think he'd be horrified to see how it's read and used in classes (I'm a huge fan, but I'd never assign it as a prescriptive aid for students.)

                Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                by pico on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 09:43:58 PM PDT

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      •  Ah, you beat me to it; I didn’t see (4+ / 0-)

        this until after I posted my response to you above.

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