Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

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FK7
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Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by FK7 » April 23rd, 2010, 4:30 pm

In one of the comment sections me and another argued about Strunk & White. He despised the book with almost pure hatred, and I found it interesting that such a little book could bring up such powerful emotions.

What do you think of this little book?

Personally, I like the voice and how behind his principles both of them are. Some of the rules however, are a little silly. "Form the possessive with 's no matter what the last consonant is".

Charles's teeth?

This not only sound but looks ridiculous... in my first draft I thought I'd be a good boy and listen to Strunk & White for everything, but during the second draft revisions I opted to disregard that particular rule, simply because it just looked ridiculous.

What are your pet peeves with the little book?

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Quill
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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Quill » April 23rd, 2010, 4:51 pm

I think Charles's teeth looks good. How would you have it, Charles' teeth?

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Colonel Travis
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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Colonel Travis » April 23rd, 2010, 4:54 pm

Didn't see the comments you mentioned, but I've been a writer/copy editor most my professional life and most the arguments against this great book are embarrassingly bad. Within the past year, someone published an article skewering S&W, I can't remember who it was or what publication it was. I believe it was an academic journal, which made it even more embarrassingly bad. I'll see if I can track it down and post it later. The author distorted or condemned rules S&W never even invented. I was genuinely surprised it made it to publication.

One of the more common charges is that this book is uber-authoritarian, which is absolutely false. I've had very detailed arguments over the years with many people about various "rules" spelled out by S&W, and I've got absolutely no problem if you disagree with their points about the apostrophe or active voice, etc. However, the book clearly states over and over that their "rules" are not iron-clad, and that any writer with true command of the language can do whatever the hell they want. They don't just say this on one page or two pages, it's all over the @#$%! book. How anyone could miss this means that almost everyone who disparages S&W has never actually read it, or if they did, have forgotten one of the most important rules in the book, which is that it's OK to break any and all of them.

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by eringayles » April 23rd, 2010, 9:07 pm

As an English teacher, I've always used the 'Charles' teeth' rule, and every grammar teacher I know, and every gramma text I've seen agrees. Now, all my degrees are from Australian universities, and all my texts are published in the UK. Could this ( UK vs. US ) be the debating point? Everywhere I look (blockbuster authors' recommendations, writers' sites and blogs) Strunk & White are at the very top of the grammar ladder, so that's the 'bible' I use when writing for the US market. When submitting to UK, I go with the 'Queen's English'. (So very demanding on self-image!!!)

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Colonel Travis » April 23rd, 2010, 11:40 pm

Erin, I've got a couple major UK grammar books that advocate the 's:

Oxford Basic English Usage:
We sometimes just add an apostrophe (') to a singular noun ending in -s: Socrates' ideas. But 's is more common: Charles's wife.
Fowler's:
Uses for the possess­ive case in English names and surnames whenever possible; i.e. in all monosyl­lables and disyllables, and in longer words accented on the penult, as Burns's, Charles's, Cousins's, Dickens's, Hicks's, St James's Square, Thomas's, Zacharias's. It is customary, however, to omit the 's when the last syllable of the name is pro­nounced /-iz/, as in Bridges', Moses'. Jesus' is an acceptable liturgical archaism.
3 Classical names. In classical names use s' (not s's): Mars', Herodotus', Venus'. Classical names ending in -es are usually written -es' in the possessive: Ceres' rites, Xerxes' fleet; similarly Demosthenes', Euri­ pides', Socrates', Themistocles'.
I don't know when, where or why this aversion to 's started. In the grand scheme of things, who the hell cares? But it's always puzzled me why people stopped using 's, when it had been the standard for who knows how long. There's a funny chapter in Eats, Shoots & Leaves about how the world has no clue what the proper use of the apostrophe is anymore. Not including anyone here in that group, it's just that it goes way beyond 's. The digital age has screwed punctuation forever, I'm afraid.

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eringayles
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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by eringayles » April 24th, 2010, 12:42 am

I think Fowler is the boy for me, though, in the 'pronunciation - 'iz' ' examples, and for the sake of consistency, I think I'd stick with the s' for all examples of this type of possessive. Visually,the double 's' seems cumbersome.

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FK7
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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by FK7 » April 24th, 2010, 1:00 am

I'm from Canada and I've been taught since gradeschool to use Charles'. If I used Charles's I would lose a point.

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by killALLyourdarlings » April 24th, 2010, 10:23 am

Colonel Travis wrote:article skewering S&W, I can't remember who it was or what publication it was. I believe it was an academic journal
this?

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by polymath » April 24th, 2010, 11:37 am

Strunk wrote his rules for Standard Written English to address a perceived need for standardization. He tends to be prescriptive in principle because his signal work was intended for his students. It was orginally an in-house university curriculum style manual covering common areas of inconsistent usage he encountered as a professor.

However, language and usage change, especially English. Other languages have steering committees whose purpose is to prevent adaptation and evolution of language and usage. Spanish is one of the more controlled languages; English the least. It is the language of liberty, literally and figuratively.

English usage change tends toward preferring simplification for clarity's sake. Downstyle capitalization, downstyle punctuation, downstyle register, possessive singular apostrophes, etc., flow toward the most common determinant, which is simplicity for reading ease. Back in Daniel Webster's day, in most formal writing, all nouns were capitalized, all abbreviations punctuated, formal punctuation usage of colons and semicolons, long caligraphical S's, etc., registers were formal, yet style rules were inconsistent in application and agreement between various consensuses. After Webster, things simplified somewhat. There was a later major shift toward simplification in the early '60s, mostly regarding word compounding and hyphenation: co-operate, non-standard, pre-operative, for example. The Internet is driving a major, up-and-coming language usage evolution and adaption process, in writing and speaking.

Style things are a little more consistent today, due in large part to style manuals like Strunk's and White's updated editions and Chicago Manual of Style, Hart's Rules, MLA, CBE, APA, Turabian, AP-- the Associated Press style--etc., according to writing discipline, audience region, and in-house preferences. They vary widely on some style areas, though.

But it's English language's usage changing and adapting and evolving nature that is its beauty. Anyone may contribute to change. Whether it sticks or not depends on whether an agreeing consensus emerges and prefers the change over previous styles. Strunk cites thruway as an example of a change that stuck. A writer might write thru for conversational familarity, but it will not stand in formal writing and it might take away an iota of audience rapport in a creative writing work. Thruway is so much about the fast-paced pace of the interstate highway system it seems like a natural abbreviation of the languid seeming throughway.

Creative writing insists upon thinking for one's self in order to be original and simple, clear, and easy to read. Strunk and White's rules aren't rules anymore, unless at university or under the tyrrany of another prescriptive in-house style. They're guidelines, principals, conventional wisdoms that are made to be flouted, as rules are made to be broken. There are no absolutes anymore in this post Postmodern neoexistentist era, save the one, there are no absolutes. It's up to a writer to decide what principles to follow, what to flout, and what self-imposed rules to create for best rhetorical effects. An audience will approve of or refute the choices.

Take the Charles' or Charles's guideline, for example. Strunk and White prescriptively dictate the latter for singular possessive usage, MLA and Chicago are ambigious, depending on intent and clarity. They both prefer the former in most contemporary usages; however, allowance is made for personal preferences and noteably for rhetorical purposes. How is it said? is a question guiding contemporary style. Charles' or Charles'es? King Charles' reign lasted a few years or King Charles'es reign lasted centuries? In another approach, HIs ball toss' arc is flat or his ball toss'es arc is flat?
Spread the love of written word.

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Colonel Travis
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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Colonel Travis » April 24th, 2010, 1:15 pm

killALLyourdarlings wrote: this?
Yep. Thanks.

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Wolfe3141 » April 24th, 2010, 2:02 pm

Right now I'm new to trying to write for someone other than myself so I will follow S&W and Stephen King's On Writing. Though I will omit the 's after a s ... just doesn't feel right to me. LOL

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by KellyWittmann » April 24th, 2010, 2:04 pm

Visually,the double 's' seems cumbersome.
I couldn't agree more. It's just... unwieldy.

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by mojo25 » April 27th, 2010, 11:57 am

I love S&W--but it shouldn't be the only grammar book you read--there are lots of others...some of the new ones are written in a fun, accessible style. Check out reference section of your bookstore.

s's is the correct way. You only use s' if it's a name like Jesus or Moses

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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Ermo » May 4th, 2010, 12:33 pm

Reading this thread, I'm reminded of Cormac McCarthy, who said he preferred "simple, declarative sentences," would never use a semicolon, never used quotation marks and said he saw no reason to "block the page up with weird little marks."

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Mira
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Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Mira » May 4th, 2010, 1:22 pm

Strunk and White bugs me.

Now, I'm grammar challenged - there's no doubt of that - but I've read books that were much more helpful.

The first problem with Strunk and White is that it's hard to understand and follow. That strikes me as quite ironic in a book that is supposedly a manual on writing style.

Second, they are time-bound. Many of their recommendations may have fit for the culture they were in at the time, but not now.

Third, they are just dead wrong sometimes. When I read the section about not being too familiar when writing in a first person voice, I threw the book against the wall and never picked it up again. There is no true heart or creativity to Strunk and White There's no risk or daring. It's all about rules. That tells me they don't really understand creative writing.

I'm not saying there is no value to the book, I just think anyone who wants to write creatively should steer clear of it and never read it for any reason whatsoever. And even those who do read it, should do so with a grain of salt.

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