Finding the #Write #Words? No. 27: The Elements of Style

Continuing the description of books on words and language listed in the introductory post, which you’ll find here.

Book 27: The Elements of Style:

Paperback, 105 pages. First published in 1919 by the author, William Strunk Jr and a required text book for the Cornell course entitled ‘English 8’ for which he was the professor. A revised edition was published in 1935, when Edward A. Tenney collaborated to produce the new book. Macmillan Publishing Co. published editions in 1959 and 1972. My copy, the Fourth Edition, with Revisions, and Introduction, and a Chapter on Writing, by E.B.White was published by Longman, copyrighted in 1979 and 2000 by Allyn and Bacon, A Pearson Education Company. This edition appears to be the current one and is available in paperback for £6.99 (which is probably what I paid for it around 2007) and in hardback for £10.44.

William Strunk referred to his book as ‘the little book’, and it remains a small volume. It contains only five chapters, most of them subdivided into several sections. The Chapters are: Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style. There is also an Afterword, Glossary, and Index.

I bought this book to gain some understanding of the differences in approach between UK English and American English, but it provides much more than that guidance. In particular, the final chapter is a guide to writing clear, readable, memorable English, regardless of whether this originates from the home country of the language or from any of its extensive progeny.

Opened, randomly, at pages 46/47, I find I’m in the ‘Misused Words and Expressions chapter. Page 46 starts with the following article:

Fact.  Use this word only of matters capable of direct verification, not of matters of judgment. That a particular event happened on a given date and that lead melts at a certain temperature are facts. But such conclusions as that Napoleon was the greatest of modern generals or that the climate of California is delightful, however defensible they may be, are not properly called facts.’

Please can someone with the facility, point out this difference to Mr Donald Trump, who appears to be single-handedly trying to destroy the English language with his combination of ego, ignorance and utter disregard for truth?

The final entry on page 47 is as follows:

Fortuitous. Limited to what happens by chance. Not to be used for fortunate or lucky.’

The book is a small wonder and I’d advise all writers who are serious about their craft to obtain a copy, read it, and apply its lessons.

English is a complex language, made up of words from many countries, and borrows rules of grammar, punctuation and even style from the originating lands, which can make it interestingly familiar to learners but also frequently frustratingly baffling to the same students.

Those learning the English Language will find help on pronunciation here. And you’ll find a friendly group on Facebook through this link.

And, for those with an interest in English and considering their future, here’s a link that suggests the many possible career opportunities open to those with a degree in English. It’s also a link to an online university, and therefore an advert for their services. I know nothing of the institution, but the list of possible career choices might be useful.

Earlier posts in the series can be found by clicking on the titles below.

2. A Dictionary of Misunderstood Misused Mispronounced Words.
3. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
4. A Miscellany for Word Lovers.
6. A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang.
7. Brit-think, American-think.
8. Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors.
9. Collins English Dictionary.
10. Current English Usage.
11. Descriptionary; a Thematic Dictionary.
12. Divided by a Common Language.
13. Eats Shoots & Leaves.
14. English Prepositional Idioms.
15. Fowler’s Modern English Usage.
16. Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers.
17. Hartrampf’s Vocabulary Builder.
18. i before e (except after c).
19. Longman Companion to English Literature.
20. New Hart’s Rules.
21. New Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms.
22. Oxford Compact Thesaurus.
23. Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English.
24. Roget’s Thesaurus.
25. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
26. The Dictionary of Diseased English.

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