Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Requiem for Strunk and White

Or why the The Elements of Style is a load of crap.

(1) Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense;
(2) its enormous influence has significantly degraded American students' grasp of English grammar;
(3) both authors were grammatical incompetents. Strunk had very little analytical understanding of syntax, White even less. White was a fine writer, but he was not qualified as a grammarian.
(4) Some of its recommendations are vapid, like "Be clear" (how could one disagree?), some are tautologous, like "Do not explain too much." Many are useless, like "Omit needless words."
(5) The book's contempt for its own grammatical dictates seems almost willful, as if the authors were flaunting the fact that the rules don't apply to them.

Says who? Geoffrey K. Pullum, who is head of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh and co-author (with Rodney Huddleston) of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002). I think he should know. At least until he is dead and someone else comes and criticizes his work :-D

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