2006-08-18

The Elements of Style Revised

Get the little book!

I've been working off and on for the last few weeks on updating the original 1918 edition of William Strunk's short book on the basics of elementary composition. No, it isn't "Strunk and White"; White's additions are still in copyright and thus untouchable. Nor is it the book I would have written myself from scratch; that would look a lot more like Mapping the Model, except Rosemary Hake has already written it, so why should I? (Alas, that book is out of print....)

Here's part of the Reviser's Introduction, so you can see if it's for you:

My revisions to the original are founded on the principle that rules of usage and style cannot be drawn out of thin air, nor constructed a priori according to "logic"; they must depend on the actual practice of those who are generally acknowledged to be good writers. For a larger work founded on the same principles and giving much more detailed and up-to-date advice on usage, the reader is urged to consult the current edition of Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, as I have done with both pleasure and profit while preparing this revision.

I have attempted to remain within the scope of the original. This book, therefore, is intended as a compendium of helpful advice to novice writers in freshman composition classes, not a code of general laws of writing for all works by all writers in all circumstances. Violations of the rules can be found within the book itself — this is neither inconsistent nor hypocritical, as The Elements of Style Revised is not a paper written for a composition class.

In updating Strunk's work from the 19th century to the late early 21st century, I have retained as much of Strunk's spirit and characteristic style as I could. I have removed the obsolete, the erroneous, and the merely idiosyncratic (Strunk's arbitrary dislike of "student body", for example) both from Strunk's own usage and from the rules laid down in his book. Like White, I have also added a few points to Chapters IV and V that seemed to me important enough to justify their presence, as well as removing Strunk's Chapter VI on spelling. I have not hesitated to replace Strunk's opinions with contrary ones, though I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of those I expected to require changing (strictures against split infinitives and final prepositions, as well as the preposterous which/that rule) did not appear in the 1918 edition at all.

Share and enjoy, and of course send me critiques.

3 comments:

Anton said...

Language Log frequently slams Strunk; you might look there for criticisms if you haven't already.

Postmodern Sass said...

Your middle name is Woldemar? How marvellous. I think I'm in love.

John Cowan said...

/me grins.

My wife Gale (who is very much in favor of people being in love with me) said "Been there, done that, fell in love with the name", and then sang: Woldemar, Woldemar / That is who you are ..."