Monday, April 13, 2009

Forget Celebrating Strunk & White

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of that little grammar guide, Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, but should writers celebrate?

One writer and professor, Geoffrey K. Pullum, says he won't celebrate in an article published recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Pullum ends his argument by stating, "I've spent too much of my scholarly life studying English grammar in a serious way. English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It 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."

Basically, Pullum argues that Strunk and White didn't understand or follow many of the grammatical rules the pair touted. Pullum also notes that some of the original text written by Strunk was later revised by White including additions and deletions that didn't exist in the original nor did those additions or deletions make sense.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed's web site is a subscription-based site, but here is the link to Pullum's article titled, "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice."

And here is an article that doesn't mention the bad quality of the advice but does talk about the anniversary published in Newsday.

And supporting Pullum's more recent article is an article published in 2005, which Pullum applauded, by Jan Freeman titled, "Frankenstrunk."


Carolyn Erickson said...

Woohoo! Strong words: "idiosyncratic bumblers!"

I love it, though. Nothing like a good controversy to wake us up and make us pay attention. Grammar is exciting, people! :)

Thanks for pointing this out, Linda.

Serenity Now! said...


I do love Strunk & White still.... for the everyman.

I don't think you'll ever find a grammar expert who will ever like anyone else's book other than their own.

S&W did a great job of making grammar understandable in layman's terms for those of us who are inept at it... and they clearly say in their book that rules should never trump good sounding writing.

Kai said...

I've always quite liked S&W, if only for the archaic uses of language in some cases.
My main problem with it is that according to S&W, elements of style 'etc' - English in it's common forms hasn't evolved. Which is a fallacy.

Grammar isn't only exciting and fun, but it's an evolution of use, need and expression and is our foundation as writers - so be really careful which manual you use to build the foundations.

Brava Linda!