Writing

The Elements of Style

Prescriptivists, rejoice! This, here, is justification.

Sometimes, when it comes to advice, everyone In the Know gives the same advice. From everything I’ve read, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is that advice.

I first heard mention of it in Stephen King’s On Writing, and then again pretty much whenever I did anything remotely resembling an investigation into proofreading or editing. It popped up wherever I looked. And eventually, I succumbed.

The Elements of Style is a small book about English grammar, peppered with the writers’ strictures and personal prejudices. One of the good things about it is the lack of waffle, something which Strunk despised, which means that it is barely a hundred pages if you ignore the index, and that every word counts.

It’s also pleasant to know that some of one’s own prejudices – a pet peeve is the creation of verbs from nouns by the addition of -ize or -ise, with one of the worst offenders being burglarise (what’s wrong with ‘to burgle’, for goodness’ sake?) – are held by such authorities on English. And yes, a much stronger word than ‘pleasant’ could be used, but it would probably be uglier.

This is a book which everyone with any pretension of writing should read. Scratch that, it should be required reading for English class in school, from 11 through to 16. Then, perhaps, we will have school-leavers with an appropriate writing age.

Now to put some of the advice held within into practice…

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