Writing: Elements of Style in English

By Xah Lee. Date:

Was reading Wikipedia on The Elements of Style. Here's a interesting quote:

Edinburgh University linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum has criticized The Elements of Style, saying:

The book's toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules… It's sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write ‘however’ or ‘than me’ or ‘was’ or ‘which,’ but can't tell you why.[9]

Specifically, Pullum says Strunk and White were misguided in identifying the passive voice as incorrect, and in proscribing established usages such as the split infinitive and the use of “which” in a restrictive relative clause.[9] He also frequently criticizes Elements on Language Log, a linguists' blog focusing on portrayals of language in the popular media, for promoting linguistic prescriptivism and hypercorrection among English speakers,[10] referring to it as “the book that ate America's brain”.[11]

The Boston Globe's review of the 2005 illustrated edition describes it as an “aging zombie of a book … a hodgepodge, its now-antiquated pet peeves jostling for space with 1970s taboos and 1990s computer advice.”[12]

Quite funny, and i'd agree. Much of the mouthings of the writing establishment is shit.

But also, from this i learned the word Atavism. Also, the term Hypercorrection. It is great to know the word hypercorrection, because that gives me another embellished artillery against the grammarian and pedant sophomorons.

Also, from Wikipedia's citation and references, i learned of Language Log. Yay. A blog dedicated to fucking with pedantic idiots, which i've been doing for the past decade. The blog itself is here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/.

I kept on reading a bit on Wikipedia about the various style guides. Fowler's Modern English Usage, seems like one i can endorse. There's also The Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, MLA. Actually, i think most of these so-called style “guides” are much ado about nothing. The only firm advice i can give about writing, besides knowing basic grammar and spelling, is: Study logic and critical thinking, obtain a analytical mind. This, will improve your writing by far, than a writing “style” per se.

As to a writing guide, the only i can firmly recommend is: Simplified English. This is far more effective than any established style guides. Of course, all these style-talk about how to form words and punctuations into cogent sentences, are in the context of formal writing, in science, journal, reports, documentations, tutorials, textbooks, as opposed to literary tomfoolery as in essaying, novels, poetry, of which, pigs fly.

On May 2, 9:06 am, Raffael Cavallaro wrote:

What you don't seem to realize, or possibly wilfully ignore, is that no native speaker would want your advice on writing because almost every post of yours betrays a faulty grasp of Elementary english grammar. You have to know the rules before you can creatively break them, and you don't know the rules yet.

What you don't seem to realize, or possibly willfully ignore, as with most pedants, is that writing serves a purpose, a purpose of communication, and when a piece of writing, communicated exactly what the writer wants the reader to feel, understand, with no hiccups in the reading process, that writing is successful. Moreover, if the style per se, persuaded the reader, tickled his mind, hit her brain, or boiled the blood, that writing is great.

Now, my little ditty of “Elements of Style in English” is a little essay. As you can see, the target audience are people concerned about writing and have read one or two of the mentioned style guides. In general, they are college graduates, or involved in the writing profession.

Now, consider the sentence you criticized:

Of course, all these style talk about how to form your words and punctuations into cogent sentences are in the context of formal writing, in science, journal, reports, documentations, tutorials, textbooks, as opposed to literary tomfoolery as in essaying, novels, poetry, of which, pigs fly.

Would any in the audience have problem understanding the above perfectly and fluently? In particular, when the “pigs fly” part hits them?

You not only understood it perfectly, so well, in fact, you took the time to criticize how it is ungrammatical, and accuse me of no basic understanding of grammar. This, is the communicative success of my little piece.

Originally posted to comp.lang.lisp and alt.english.usage: http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/browse_frm/thread/cab47c7322ae9bfe