I’m something of an addict when it comes to books on writing. As a result I’ve purchased far more than I’ve read. But I believe the Elements of Style to be a must have for any writer. And if the terrible day ever came when I had to downsize my library, this is one book that would stay.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Not everyone is excited to celebrate though — Geoffrey K. Pullum, head of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh, takes on the famous book in this article — — in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
As much as I love being, to my friends anyway, the grammar nerd, my technical knowledge of grammar isn’t that great. That’s why a lot of Pullum’s critiques of The Elements of Style were just a bit over my head. However, he does make a good point that if Strunk and White weren’t as great at grammar as everyone thinks they were, then this is a poor book to be using as the basis for grammar education in schools.
White took English 8 from Strunk in 1919. He then forgot about his freshman composition course, and its textbook, until 1957, when a friend sent him a copy of The Elements of Style that he had stolen from the Cornell library. White wrote about the purloined book in the New Yorker ("Letter from the East," July 27, 1957, pp. 35-36; 41- 45), but he apparently didn't return it to Cornell. Instead, he revised it (Strunk had died in 1946), added an introductory essay, and republished The Elements of Style in 1959. It immediately became a best-seller, and its four editions have sold more than ten million copies.