Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The [Non-Intimidating] Elements of Style

"The shape of our language is not rigid; in questions of usage we have no lawgiver whose word is final."

I received a great amount of enjoyment from this little book.  I highly recommend the illustrated version, too, since it adds to the serious, yet humorous, nature of the writing.  I appreciated how it was written, as well as the opinions expressed, even if my pet peeves aren't necessarily the same as Strunk's.  I do agree that more attention should be paid, generally speaking, to eliminating the extra words that add nothing but clutter to a written piece.

The brevity was refreshing.  Too often, books about writing are not written in a way worth emulating.  It would be nice to be able to say that, having read this book, my writing is now greatly improved.  But in the absence of that, at least the book's format lends itself nicely to future reference.

"The language is perpetually in flux: it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing old forms in the backwaters of time."

I was spurred into pulling the Elements of Style off my shelf by my recent grammar encounter, and I have to say that it felt great to read something on a whim for once...the last year has been about becoming disciplined in my reading, which--though I've been pleased with my progress in this department--has severely restricted my reading impulses.  Perhaps now it is time to find some balance. :)

Two excerpts that made me smile; a great example of the humor laced throughout:
Prestigious. Often an adjective of last resort.  It's in the dictionary, but that doesn't mean you have to use it.
Avoid the use of qualifiers.  Rather, very, little, pretty--these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.  The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one, and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.
Two excerpts about writing, or more precisely being a writer, that I enjoyed:
A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up.  Like other gunners, the writer must cultivate patience, working many covers to bring down one partridge.
Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.  Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.
Strunk & White.  The Elements of Style.  A classic writing manual, yet surprisingly entertaining, informational, and not at all intimidating.  If you enjoy language, this is worth a read.


  1. I would just never pick up this kind of book. But maybe I should ....

  2. I don't know...if picking apart language isn't already your thing, you might be bored to tears, even though it does go quickly. I have quite a few NF books on writing and language, so this was right up my alley. :)

  3. I doubt I should read it, it will just point out everything I do wrong but am too lazy to change :-)

  4. I'll have to look at this. I know my daughter has a copy, but I'm not sure if it's the illustrated edition... love the cover!

  5. Book helped me a lot too. Read it two or three times a year

  6. Becky, some of the opinions on specific word usage were a little dated, and probably aimed towards writing essays rather than prose (nevermind blogging!) so I read it with half a mind for improving my writing, and half a mind for being entertained. Less intimidating that way!

    JoAnn, the illustrations are gorgeous throughout, and lend a lighter mood to the topic I think. It says a lot in only a few words, which is priceless for me.

    Ben, that's one of the things that's great about it--the conciseness means you can read it a few times a year without feeling like it's digging into your reading/writing time. I'm glad to hear that you like it.

  7. Ds is reading it for an English class, but it is not illustrated. Now, why wouldn't you have an illustrated version for a group of high schoolers???

  8. Heidi, why ever have a non-illustrated version when there are great illustrations to be had?? Makes no sense to me. I read Northanger Abbey from a book that included illustrations and it made it that much better. :)


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