Fiftieth Anniversary of 'The Elements of Style'

This article will most likely outrage legions of old English teachers, including mine.

Here is commentary from Geoffrey K. Pullum in The Chronicle of Higher Education about why the author is not celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Elements of Style.

He softens his commentary by adding that the authors of this chestnut, Strunk and White, "won't be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead."

William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately.

Pullum comments, "The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it."


...seeming reverence for the book.

I took "prescriptive English" in college and it kicked my ass. Out of a class of thirty-something students, only about eight made it through the final exam. That was back when I was convinced I was a genius (kind of like now).
But I never read that book. I only used it to find when to use single quotes, or where to put commas, or how to show the possessive of proper names ending in "s."
If the book sucked so bad, why was it so popular in American colleges? So I think that's the answer: Americans don't know proper English, and probably never will.
Because now it's too late. Because we should all start learning that Bladerunner language.

Subscribe to Comments for "Fiftieth Anniversary of 'The Elements of Style'"