1. Jefferson27
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    Jefferson27 Member

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    The Elements of Style - Strunk and White

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Jefferson27, Nov 23, 2011.

    Personally I have not read it, but I was under the impression that it carried at least some popular appeal, or at least use to.
    I was thinking about acquiring it for a read to see what it had to offer, but after reading some reviews of it, it appears doing so would do my writing more harm than good. Least according to some, and some of which seem to know what they are talking about.


    Here is some of the criticism of it.


    In criticizing The Elements of Style, Geoffrey Pullum, professor of linguistics at Edinburgh University, and co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002), said that:

    "The book's toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules . . . It's sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write however or than me or was or which, but can't tell you why.

    Specifically, Pullum said that the authors misunderstood what constitutes the passive voice, and criticized their proscription of established popular usages, such as the split infinitive and the use of which in a restrictive relative clause. He further criticized The Elements of Style in Language Log, a linguists' log about language usage in the popular media, for promoting linguistic prescriptivism and hypercorrection among Anglophones, and called it "the book that ate America's brain".

    The Boston Globe's review described The Elements of Style Illustrated (2005), by Maira Kalman, as an "aging zombie of a book . . . a hodgepodge, its now-antiquated pet peeves jostling for space with 1970s taboos and 1990s computer advice".


    And some more criticism - http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497/

    An excerpt from another goes on to agree.

    "Well, I know many of you love that book, but Pullum backs up every one of his criticisms, for example pointing out that Strunk and White's examples in the "Use Active Voice" section are strangely contrived, and the examples of passive voice sentences aren't actually passive voice sentences. It's hard to argue with that."

    "Even before Pullum's review I gave an interview to Time Out New York in which I noted that the most striking thing about The Elements of Style is that nobody seems to pay attention to the introduction in which White himself undermines much of the book's credibility, or at least takes great pains to point out that the book is not the inerrant grammar ruling of God that so many people seem to think it is."


    Now this was just some of the negative views expressed regarding this supposedly held in high regard book. I was slightly surprised that that's what came up when I first searched about it, especially since I was searching merely for the book and opinions on it. Even when searching for positive reviews, I got negative ones. With the exception of a blogger who thought highly of it, yet was less convincing in reasoning or showing evidence to back up his claims of excellence, but nonetheless he heaped his approval on. I am sure I could find some more positive ones if I continued but yet at least some of the criticism direct toward the book appears to be merited, self-evident and agreed upon according to some who know what they are talking about.


    Nevertheless, I am curious what people on this forum think of The Elements of Style, or know of it. If people here feel the same as those reviewers or differently.

    Does anyone here have opinions on it?
     
  2. Anarchist_Apple84
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    Anarchist_Apple84 Senior Member

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    'I can see it leering at me from my bookshelf... the creases in it's spine are not from overuse, let's put it that way!

    It was on my reading list at University, and joking aside, it is a very useful book, but an absolute nightmare to get through. I'd recommend purchasing it, you won't enjoy it, but it WILL help you.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that there are some works that are so influential that if you want to have a thorough grounding in the subject, you should read that book, even if you don't necessarily accept everything that it says. I would say that at a minimum, _The Elements of Style_ is worth reading on those grounds.

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a very good point.
    Most of what the book says isn't based on actual grammar, that's true, but it has logical points like "Don't construct awkward adverbs", which seems obvious but when you've read some of the adverbs I have, you realise it isn't. You can be a bit pick-and-choose-y with what it says, but it's up to you. I've read through it several times and loved it. I don't remember most of the stuff in it, but I use several of its rules and guidelines.
    You just have to remember that it's Elements of Style, not necessarily Elements of English Grammar. It's about making your work easy to read and removing awkward phrasings and such. It's up to you how you apply the knowledge, and whether you apply the knowledge.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This book seems to be the most popular grammar book out there. It was required reading for a few of the classes I took in college. I've only read it once and don't really use it that often to be honest, although I will say that it's fairly useful for essays and other pieces of nonfiction writing.
     
  6. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a mistake people seem to make. It's not really a grammar book. It tells you how to use punctuation properly, yes, but for all intents and purposes, it's a guide to style, not grammar. Since it's not grounded on factual grammar (which is boring, tbh, and not nearly as exciting as maths), the things it tells you can be taken with a grain of salt, and you can disagree with things it says.
     
  7. Granville
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    Granville Member

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    I'm with ChickenFreak. It's a book that has to be read, if for no other reason than to hold an informed opinion on the book itself. Having hashed through the book several times myself in the murky distant past, it certainly helped me to identify those elements of style that I knew were lacking in my writing, without necessarily investing me with style. Buy it. Read it. Throw it away. It can only help you develop. My copy is staying in my bookcase.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It may not be as comprehensive as other grammar books, but it does have a small section on grammar (I think 15-20 pages), which is the only section I've ever used it for.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've made this point before in other threads, but I'll repeat it here. The Elements of Style is not a book for serious writers who wish to become accomplished at the art and craft of prose. It is merely a book to help those who are not serious writers avoid embarrassing themselves when they actually have to write something. I find it pretty remedial. If you've read a lot of well-written prose in your lifetime, I don't think you need it.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    ^ I agree completely.
     

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