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Strict, stricken, Strunk

In this, the last post I intend to write about The Elements of Style, I draw your attention to Geoffrey Pullum’s Language Log post with links to New York Times commentary on “the little book” by Language Hat, Grammar Girl and other eminences. Particularly telling is Language Hat’s evaluation of the beloved book as “the mangiest of stuffed owls.”

Of my own comments on the matter, I have only this to add. I have a sentimental recollection of encountering The Elements of Style at 18. But like many of the other delights one may recollect from youth — first loves, kir royales, amateur guitar playing — it does not hold up well on repeated encounter.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:24 PM | | Comments (10)


A somewhat quaint though tremendously simplistic and paternalistic little book. It’s long past time to put it out to pasture. Or, you know, shoot it.

Or fix it. As I have done.

You're right. Who needs to be reminded about clarity, organization, and concision? No writers I know of.

I surmise that Mr. Blanco may not have taken the time to read the criticisms by Professor Pullum and the others, which, if I may summarize them, hold that bad advice, or good advice badly administered, will not benefit writers.

"Who needs to be reminded about clarity, organization, and concision? No writers I know of."

Good writers don't need to be reminded about these things, and a few bland and vague words of advice in a style manual won't be of much use to bad writers.

Is there a market for the kind of Strunk and White we wish it were?

Over the years, I have found that the people who quote this book the most have read it (or understood it) the least. Is it Scripture? It is not. Is it worth consulting? It is. (And cheers for the serial comma in Mr. Blanco's post.)

I've found the Strunk & White is a good reference but does not hold up well with the changes that have been made in language in the last 30 years. It's hard to dictate to people guidelines that are outdated and merely serve to make language more convoluted in contemporary speech and writing. I keep it as a knick-knack but little else other than that.

Hi. Based on this interesting post, I thought you might be interested in seeing my note post regarding Strunk, White, and EOS. I hope you enjoy it.

Best regards,
Mark Garvey

You have some very nice and informative web pages. I would like to make one recommendation. Get rid of the pastel print and use something that provides a better contrast with the white background on your site. Even plain old black type would be much easier to read! This is especially important for the web links that you provide.

Any print placed on a web page should always be easily readable and both contrast and type size contribute to that, as you observe in your section on setting the font to 12 point. I have to ask, "Why are you NOT using at least 12 point or, preferably, 16-24 point font size on your web pages?"

Links must be noticeable for people to click them. Links in pastel color or light gray are not going to be noticeable!

I checked your link to the Test King site and the 640-802 page only shows a demo pack, not a free writing tutorial. Please follow your own instructions and make that paragraph more informative by including some more specific that a vague reference to the contents of the pages you have linked. Following your links left me wondering exactly which one of the products on each of those pages you expected students to use.

Although I am no longer a student, I think your web pages can be useful to anyone who needs some formatting information on how to write a paper that includes citations. It would be kind of nice if you added a page aimed at those who are trying to enter the professional writing field and need help with proper formatting or information on where to find such information.

Thanks for your work.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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