For the word nerd: a longish tear on Strunk & White.
I read the pseudo-scholarly essay voraciously. Twice. And then I fired off a (more-or-less) carefully measured response.
What a MAGNIFICENT rant! Thanks so much for passing it along.
Although I love the author’s self-righteous outrage, I can’t agree with him entirely. As the head of a linguistics/English department, he of all people should know the difference between prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. He attacks The Elements of Style as if it were a comprehensive manual of the former, when it was intended only as a guide for navigating the latter.
Because of this distinction, I think Pullum’s review misses the boat entirely. His rants are about the mechanics of grammar; The Elements of Style is about the mechanics of writing. The two may be related, but they are not synonymous.
I think Prof. Pullum would do well to at least *try* some of Strunk & White’s advice—like “don’t explain too much,” or perhaps “omit needless words.” As for his condenmation of Strunk & White for their “unnecessary piece of bossiness,” I would respond by holding up a mirror.
I was rather pleased with my screed until my friend/colleague Craig weighed in as well. He’s read The Elements of Style, of course … but that didn’t keep him from re-imagining “Strunk & White” as a sad, has-been country western act.
This weekend at Mystic Lake, playing their hits like …
“Irregardless, She Left Me”
“She’s Singluarly Possessive”
“Her Independent Claws”
“Parenthetially Speaking (She’s Mine)”
I chuckled at his cleverness. But I laughed out loud this morning when I came to work and found one more title:
At First It Was Good Then It Got Very Bad And I Wish I Was Free ‘Cause It’s Like Serving Time Because Being With You Has Become Just A Long Run-On Sentence”
That, right there, is the difference between understanding grammar and being able to apply it.
In the words of Professor Pullum himself, “English syntax … is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don’t-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can’t even tell when they’ve broken their own misbegotten rules.”
God, how I wish he’d actually *read* his own essay before submitting it …