Elements of Style

Last September, I wrote a post in which I cited Strunk and White’s Elements of Style on omitting needless words.…

Last September, I wrote a post in which I cited Strunk and White’s Elements of Style on omitting needless words. I was surprised to read in the comments a bit of pretty vigorous opposition to Strunk and White, though I was also secretly pleased that somebody cared enough to express disdain for the book. Still, like it or not, the book is a staple in our grammar canon. If you’re the type to dive into a book like Elements of Style or to object to it on political grounds, you might be the type who would enjoy a study of the book’s history. I learned from the ever-informative Brain Pickings about just such a study, entitled Stylized. I haven’t read the book myself but may pick it up. If you’re not familiar with Elements of Style, it might be worth picking up, as much of the advice is still often sound, even if some of it is stodgy and fussy.

You get a little vacation from actual grammar and usage tips this week, but I’ll try to return next week with something a little more substantial.

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  1. Elements of Style is a fantastic resource. When people want to hate on it I implore them to provide me with a better resource. Sure, it’s not perfect; it’s based on a photocopied course packet Strunk used in a college class he taught. But can somebody please show me a more concise, yet thorough resource for writers?

  2. Elements of Style is a great resource– it was always on the ‘required’ list of books for my college writing classes!

  3. The Elements is a classic work. More than anything, it projects a great respect for the craft of writing and the great hope that good writing can come with heart and with discipline. Sure, an imperious tone. Sure, out-dated in some of its rules. And I’m sure embodying some of the prejudices of its time. And yet, still so much simple wisdom there.

  4. Go ahead and call me stodgy and fussy. I don’t care. I enjoyed reading your post. I was raised on The Elements of Style, and I especially appreciate its suggestion about using short words when possible, instead of longer ones. I think my favorite example is a preference for the verb “use” over “utilize.” “Utilize” isn’t just longer, according to the book. It’s uglier, too. I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Yes, I believe in learning the elements of style first, then making our own inroads with different styles. Wrote my master’s thesis with The Elements of Style by my side. It’s a keeper.

  6. No one book will have all the rules, advice and examples, except perhaps for a government style manual, which we have here in Australia. This is a useful guide and should be read and reread over one’s writing life, although I’d use several if I was just starting to write and learn grammar.

  7. “the book is a staple in our grammar canon” For American English, you mean? Not everyone writing on WordPress is American, though. Some of us write in English. Or British English, as it is known outside England. ; ))

  8. Another great book is called “Word Bytes – Writing for the Information Society” by Caroline Lee – I highly recommend it.

  9. “Elements of Style” is such a little book but still has great weight in terms of information! It should be required in all English courses from high school onward. No doubt many find it “stodgy” or “fussy,” but that’s a valuable part of the book. Writers of all kinds need to understand how the language has been used in the past so that its use in the present makes sense. Long live Strunk and White! (May they rest in peace, too.)

  10. Stephen King recommended “Elements of Style” in his book “On Writing”, and that’s how I heard about it. I think King is terrific, even if he’s a bit like Marmite: you love him or you hate him. However, he is a fantastic writer, and I feel even if you don’t like his novels, it’s hard to call him a bad writer. Elements of Style is a fantastic place for any writer to start out.

  11. I do enjoy leafing through Elements of Style from time to time. I have another style book, written by a former Washington Post editor, titled Lapsing into a Comma :) and was given yet another by a former supervisor at my old job when she found out that I wrote fiction.