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April 15, 2009

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Anti-Strunkites, Pt. 2

Michael Leddy pokes holes in Geoffrey Pullum’s critique of Strunk and White, particularly Pullum’s characterization of S/W’s guidance as free-floating, contentless maxims:

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.

Posted April 15, 2009 at 5:48 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Language, Learnin'


My favorite Geoffrey Pullum takedown remains David Foster Wallace, God love 'im.

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