April 15, 2009
Anti-Strunkites, Pt. 2
Pullum says that “many” of Strunk and White’s recommendations are “useless,” citing “Omit needless words” as an example. On its own, this advice is no more helpful than telling a musician to avoid playing wrong notes. But “Omit needless words” doesn’t appear on its own; it’s accompanied by sixteen examples of how to improve cumbersome phrasing (e.g., “the fact that”) and a demonstration of how six choppy sentences can be revised into one…
Pullum’s summing up — “Following the platitudinous style recommendations of Elements would make your writing better if you knew how to follow them” — seems to forget that The Elements of Style is, after all, a book, with examples and explanations to help the reader to put its recommendations into practice.
He also points out, as I did, that Pullum too often switches his targets.
Key takeaways for me from the Pullum: S/W too often creates sentences that NO ONE trained in comp would write as illustrations of types of writing to avoid, rather than tougher cases; the evidence of S/W “don’ts” in the writings of master contemporary stylists of English literature strongly suggests that these usages are in fact perfectly grammatical/appropriate.