Monday, April 13, 2009

English grammar update

A long time ago I read that Strunk and White was the must-have guide to style in English writing. I dutifully bought a copy, and I may have read it.

It's still praised, but not by anyone who reads Language Log, I think. Language Loggers have been pointing out the deficiencies and inconsistencies of The Elements of Style for quite some time.

Dr. Geoffrey Pullum has written a succint and scathing article celebratingon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Elements of Style: 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.


This was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents.

Notice what I am objecting to is not the style advice in Elements, which might best be described the way The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy describes Earth: mostly harmless. [...]

But despite the “Style” in the title, much in the book relates to grammar, and the advice on that topic does real damage. It is atrocious. Since today it provides just about all of the grammar instruction most Americans ever get, that is something of a tragedy.

And for an enjoyable bonus, Dr. Pullum responds to some of the comments on his article at

Language Log: my English grammar heroes for the twenty-first century.