The Elements of Style


ATTENTION ALL ENGLISH speakers, you may be misusing the English language without even knowing it.  When you use the word “however” do you mean “nevertheless”? This common mistake and many others are pointed out in this little e-book that I purchased off iTunes for $0.99. Little did I know that Stephen King and EB White consider it a masterpiece.

Its author William Strunk was a Cornell University Professor, who back in 1918, had his little rule book on prose expression printed privately. There is a chapter on rules of usage, another on the principles of composition, and a concise rundown of Words and Expression Commonly Misused.

The English language is complicated and confusing.  It is easily and frequented mangled to suit our needs.Professor Strunk was a man who believed in brevity and lucidity.  He wanted simplicity and cries out against the mutilation of the language by advertising copywriters and smart aleck bloggers.

Nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs

“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. ”  The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.  Advice that he qualifies, that it does not mean that adverbs and adjectives are to be discarded entirely; they are an indispensable part of the language and surprise with their power.

It is a small book and Strunk’s approach to writing is firm and clear.  Consider this advice: “Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy and the cute. “Do not be tempted by a twenty dollar word when then there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.

Clarity, Clarity, Clarity

When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through against the terrible odds of syntax.

Avoid Foreign Languages

The writer will often find it convenient or necessary to borrow from other languages.  Some writers, however, from sheer exuberance or a desire to show off, sprinkle their work literally with foreign expression, with no regard for the reader’s comfort.

Omit Needless Words

“Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have not unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer makes all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

EB White remarked, “Sixty-three words that could change the world.”

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk Jr. on iTune

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