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(Chronicle of Higher Ed)   A smack-down to cheer every English major who had to read that silly little book: The Elements of Style is "by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don't know what is a passive construction and what isn't"   (chronicle.com) divider line
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12867 clicks; posted to Main » on 11 Apr 2009 at 11:33 AM (12 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



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2009-04-11 9:20:32 AM  
that guy, it seems to me, rites prety goodly
 
2009-04-11 9:24:53 AM  
Finally! Those bastards on their ivory tower, by ivory tower I mean the sacred cow of undergraduate professors who teach English, are coming down and it will be watched by me! Happily?
 
2009-04-11 9:46:20 AM  
Even the truly silly advice, like "Do not inject opinion," doesn't really do harm. (No force on earth can prevent undergraduates from injecting opinion. And anyway, sometimes that is just what we want from them.) But despite the "Style" in the title, much in the book relates to grammar, and the advice on that topic does real damage.

I don't see him claiming that S&W were wrong about "never begin a sentence with a conjunction."

/good read.
 
2009-04-11 9:50:19 AM  
It's about time. Why the hell are people so upset by passive tense?
 
2009-04-11 9:52:46 AM  
TFA: So I won't be spending the month of April toasting 50 years of the overopinionated and underinformed little book that put so many people in this unhappy state of grammatical angst. I've spent too much of my scholarly life studying English grammar in a serious way. English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don't-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can't even tell when they've broken their own misbegotten rules.

Academic arguments are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.
 
2009-04-11 9:55:58 AM  

eddyatwork: It's about time. Why the hell are people so upset by passive tense?


Anal retentive they are ;)
 
2009-04-11 9:59:16 AM  
From TFA: 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.

Gee. Perhaps because this is a style guide and not a grammar guide?

Notice what I am objecting to is not the style advice in Elements

Well, that's certainly a good thing, considering the title of the book.

Many are useless, like "Omit needless words."

Hmmm. I think TFA would have been much better had the author followed this advice. Anyone who reads the large amount of tripe that is out there in everything from the news to novels these days will know that this advice is largely unfollowed. Unfortunately.

Basically, the TL:DR is "Waahh, Strunk&White didn't follow their own advice at all times, therefore the advice must be useless."
 
2009-04-11 10:00:52 AM  
Professor with a book to sell attacks dead establishment of the book he hopes to replace on university curricula?farking shill, and far from surprising.

University professors publishing books, shilling them widely, then putting them on their own (usually compulsory) reading lists is merely the commonplace corruption of academia.
 
2009-04-11 10:02:22 AM  
eddyatwork: It's about time. Why the hell are people so upset by passive tense?

It is not known by me why people are bothered by the passive voice. Perfect sense is always made by using it, and neither extra wordiness or awkward phrasing are ever added to sentences made when the passive voice is used. Is what I mean known by you?
 
2009-04-11 10:09:54 AM  
This guy can go fark himself. How's that for style?

/Just bought my son the little book last weekend.
//We aren't writing in the style of the 18th and 19th centuries anymore.
///Strunk and White would approve of slashies.
 
2009-04-11 10:14:34 AM  
The Elements of Style was intended for students in basic English classes and aims to improve basic writing style. I don't recall it having much to say about grammar. The author of TFA needs to stop being a grammar rules lawyer.
 
2009-04-11 10:21:50 AM  
muck4doo ///Strunk and White would approve of slashies.

Probably so. The Elements of Style was as about communicating effectively.
 
2009-04-11 11:03:30 AM  
The Elements of Style is "by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don't know what is a passive construction and what isn't" ain't.

/ FTFS&W
 
2009-04-11 11:36:19 AM  
Wow! A major in English being low quality education? No shiat!
 
2009-04-11 11:40:03 AM  
It's possible to write effectively without using a style guide and pretty much all of the best writing in the world contains opinion; however, this sounds like a pretty lame book.

/never bought The Elements of Style
//still get A's in all my English and Journalism classes
 
2009-04-11 11:42:37 AM  
TFA sucks ass. (How's that for active voice?)

The Element of Style was deliberately targeted at the majority of English students, people who would have been on a journalism track for the most part. It is fine for teaching a workmanlike journalistic approach to writing. It wasn't written to shout down Vladimir Nabokov and Cormac McCarthy, like the article's author seems to think it was.

Example of criticism from the article: "Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs," they insist. (The motivation of this mysterious decree remains unclear to me.)

Um, Professor. When's the last time you graded freshman creative-writing homework?

Oh, wait. It turns out the article's author has his own competing book to flog. Big surprise.
 
2009-04-11 11:42:44 AM  
Word!
 
2009-04-11 11:43:11 AM  
mamoru
eddyatwork: It's about time. Why the hell are people so upset by passive tense?

It is not known by me why people are bothered by the passive voice. Perfect sense is always made by using it, and neither extra wordiness or awkward phrasing are ever added to sentences made when the passive voice is used. Is what I mean known by you?


Win.

By the way, why is a Scot writing invectives about an American style guide?

That's like having a French writer comment on a style guide from French Canada.
 
2009-04-11 11:43:37 AM  

SmackLT: that guy, it seems to me, rites prety goodly


I think he rites even gooderer than that.
 
2009-04-11 11:44:08 AM  
Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.
 
2009-04-11 11:44:55 AM  
That was painful to read.
 
2009-04-11 11:46:58 AM  
i do all of my interpretive dancing in passive voice.
 
2009-04-11 11:48:08 AM  
Oh, and the book's source material is about 100 years old, and from a completely different nation than the author of the article... a nation with a completely different stylistic tradition. ("Two cultures separated by a common language.")

In other news, Stephen Hawking gives two (virtual) thumbs down to Ernest Rutherford's Introduction to Physics.
 
2009-04-11 11:50:34 AM  

mamoru:
It is not known by me why people are bothered by the passive voice. Perfect sense is always made by using it, and neither extra wordiness or awkward phrasing are ever added to sentences made when the passive voice is used. Is what I mean known by you?


That must have been painful for you. Thank you for the sacrifice.
 
2009-04-11 11:51:05 AM  
does it make me the biggest dork on the planet that I found Elements to be a fairly interesting and entertaining read?

/and any jackass who rails against omiting needless words has automatically zero credibility in my book (if I had one) Sure, if you are writing fiction and it suits your particular style, and it works to be verbose, have at it, but the vast majority of writing would benefit immensely from a ruthless editing.

//see paragraph above as example
 
2009-04-11 11:51:18 AM  

mamoru: eddyatwork: It's about time. Why the hell are people so upset by passive tense?

It is not known by me why people are bothered by the passive voice. Perfect sense is always made by using it, and neither extra wordiness or awkward phrasing are ever added to sentences made when the passive voice is used. Is what I mean known by you?


It is clear to me that what you did here is visible.
 
2009-04-11 11:51:21 AM  
I went through five years studying liberal arts at Texas A&M and was never once required to purchase that little book. The grammar and writing instruction I received was primarily based on The Little Brown Handbook.

You should buy a LBH if you want a concise writing and grammar guide.
 
2009-04-11 11:52:30 AM  

CtrlAltDelete: I mean the sacred cow of undergraduate professors who teach English


Not so sacred. I'm one of them. I make $9,000 a year doing this about 25 hours a week.
 
2009-04-11 11:53:06 AM  

mamoru: eddyatwork: It's about time. Why the hell are people so upset by passive tense?

It is not known by me why people are bothered by the passive voice. Perfect sense is always made by using it, and neither extra wordiness or awkward phrasing are ever added to sentences made when the passive voice is used. Is what I mean known by you?


Read long enough, politburo memos are what passive voice sounds like.
 
2009-04-11 11:53:24 AM  
Many are useless, like "Omit needless words."

How the fark is that useless? That's one of the most important rules of all writing- streamline your work. No one wants to read your purple prose.

The writer of this article seems to have missed the whole damn point of the book, and it shows.
 
2009-04-11 11:54:37 AM  
I'll bet this gerund likes the dangling participle.

/got nuthin'
 
2009-04-11 11:54:48 AM  
img4.imageshack.usView Full Size


It has been a long time since I've flagged people, so I can't remember why I marked you like this, but I'd imagine it still applies. You should consider it flattering :D
 
2009-04-11 11:55:48 AM  

Man On Pink Corner: Oh, and the book's source material is about 100 years old, and from a completely different nation than the author of the article... a nation with a completely different stylistic tradition. ("Two cultures separated by a common language. the Atlantic Ocean")

In other news, Stephen Hawking gives two (virtual) thumbs down to Ernest Rutherford's Introduction to Physics.



FTFEI (fixed that for eddie izzard)
 
2009-04-11 11:56:04 AM  
SharkInfested: does it make me the biggest dork on the planet that I found Elements to be a fairly interesting and entertaining read?

Nah, you're not alone there. I've committed most of it to memory:)

/Nerd
 
2009-04-11 11:56:07 AM  
tl;dr
 
2009-04-11 11:56:08 AM  

IAmRight: It's possible to write effectively without using a style guide and pretty much all of the best writing in the world contains opinion; however, this sounds like a pretty lame book.

/never bought The Elements of Style
//still get A's in all my English and Journalism classes


The Elements of Style was never intended as a major English study. It has helped many college students with the basics though. It's been years since I've last read it(and here it is sitting on my computer desk. My son hasn't even put it in his backpack yet.), but many of the lessons in it have "stuck" with me. Writing and communicating are not only important to English majors, but anyone who needs to write a paper on any subject. The little book has been perfect for that.

/I need to read the little book again.
//It's good to get a refresher every now and then.
 
2009-04-11 11:56:42 AM  
I can has stylish writings wif cat-like typing?

I has a thesaurus too.
 
2009-04-11 11:56:53 AM  
006andahalf: It is clear to me that what you did here is visible.

What I did there is seen by you?

Lenny_da_Hog: That must have been painful for you. Thank you for the sacrifice.

Heheh, it was a bit. Before I finally started using my degree and teaching biology, I was an ESL teacher for many years. I used to make my students write a paragraph normally (and for them, that meant using active voice more) and then reverse the voicing of the entire paragraph, both for practice in understanding the difference between active and passive and to show them how awkward things can become when passive is over-used.

There is a place for the passive voice, even a place for using it a lot (such as the materials and methods section of a scientific paper, where the process is more important than the people doing it), but man, it really weakens a lot of other writing.

I don't absolutely hate the passive voice, but I distrust it. I also distrust adverbs, but I am guilty of using them more than I'd like to as well.
 
2009-04-11 11:57:04 AM  

IAmRight: It's possible to write effectively without using a style guide and pretty much all of the best writing in the world contains opinion; however, this sounds like a pretty lame book.

/never bought The Elements of Style
//still get A's in all my English and Journalism classes


The issue is when students are taught by teachers who accept a series of rules they don't understand, and cause a student's writing to become stilted.

The general "never do this" rules don't hurt for the average person. Most people aren't going to rise to the level of writing wherein they'd decide whether an infinitive should be split, or whether passive voice is OK.

But some people will. And, for undergraduates at least, they end up getting shat upon. I grew tired of arguing with English teachers who clearly had little idea what they were talking about (omg! ABOUT WHAT THEY'RE TALKING!) and insisted -- even in conversation between characters -- that rules be followed that made speech sound entirely unnatural.

/agrees this book sounds lame
//and fat
///slashies aren't grammatically correct!
////they are things up with which everybody should not put
 
2009-04-11 11:57:46 AM  

muck4doo: IAmRight: It's possible to write effectively without using a style guide and pretty much all of the best writing in the world contains opinion; however, this sounds like a pretty lame book.

/never bought The Elements of Style
//still get A's in all my English and Journalism classes

The Elements of Style was never intended as a major English study. It has helped many college students with the basics though. It's been years since I've last read it(and here it is sitting on my computer desk. My son hasn't even put it in his backpack yet.), but many of the lessons in it have "stuck" with me. Writing and communicating are not only important to English majors, but anyone who needs to write a paper on any subject. The little book has been perfect for that.

/I need to read the little book again.
//It's good to get a refresher every now and then.


Yea, if you break the rules, do it for a reason. I speak english well, but I use colloquialisms for effect.
 
2009-04-11 11:58:52 AM  
Let's not forget the difference between "like" and "such as," which this author obviously does not know.
 
2009-04-11 12:01:51 PM  

Fano: muck4doo: IAmRight: It's possible to write effectively without using a style guide and pretty much all of the best writing in the world contains opinion; however, this sounds like a pretty lame book.

/never bought The Elements of Style
//still get A's in all my English and Journalism classes

The Elements of Style was never intended as a major English study. It has helped many college students with the basics though. It's been years since I've last read it(and here it is sitting on my computer desk. My son hasn't even put it in his backpack yet.), but many of the lessons in it have "stuck" with me. Writing and communicating are not only important to English majors, but anyone who needs to write a paper on any subject. The little book has been perfect for that.

/I need to read the little book again.
//It's good to get a refresher every now and then.

Yea, if you break the rules, do it for a reason. I speak english well, but I use colloquialisms for effect.


Say it ain't so.
 
2009-04-11 12:02:19 PM  
Dude....
I JUST finished that.
 
2009-04-11 12:02:38 PM  
I did not like this article. It is long read. I also believe; my penis could type a better article
 
2009-04-11 12:02:46 PM  
This reminds me of Mark Twain's furious gutting of James Fenimore Cooper's works. Much applause from this geek!
 
2009-04-11 12:04:23 PM  

Cyborg77: Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.


That's what I came here for.

/snicker
 
2009-04-11 12:04:25 PM  
Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.

I was going to effectively say the same thing behind below beneath between beyond.
 
2009-04-11 12:05:50 PM  
I like wording good.
 
2009-04-11 12:06:01 PM  
"Sadly, writing tutors tend to ignore this moderation, and simply red-circle everything that looks like a passive, just as Microsoft Word's grammar checker underlines every passive in wavy green to signal that you should try to get rid of it."

That's a dangling modifier; as far as I know, writing tutors are incapable of experiencing sadness.
 
2009-04-11 12:06:54 PM  
English major? This enginerd has a copy at his desk.
 
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