Saving Strunk and White

Looking into the College’s hallway recycling bin, as one does, I found a fourth edition paperback of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Arguably, for my generation, as Strunk died the year before I was born, this has been one of the most useful and inspiring books for any young writer or anyone seriously interested in writing.

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Copy Retrieved from Recycling Bin

There is no excuse for recycling this book. If you have multiple copies, as I do, then distribute them to your various workspaces – just seeing the book is a reminder of their suggestions on style. Or give a copy to someone who has not read or does not possess a copy. Give it to a used book store. But please don’t recycle and shread this book as if it were a day-old newspaper. It is a timeless guide to American English writing style, with such reminders to ‘be clear’ and do ‘not inject opinion’ (p. 79).

True, they do not adhere to the Oxford comma, but as the authors suggest, if any rule is inappropriate in a particular case, don’t follow it. But you need to understand standard rules of good English composition before you can wisely choose to violate one. That said, I await my colleagues critiquing this blog for violating one or another of Struck and White’s key elements of style.

This is not just a must read, but a must keep and a must to pass on to younger readers.

Note: The introduction to their book was originally published in The New Yorker, and was copyrighted by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc. The Elements of Style, Revised Edition, was then copyrighted in 1935 by Oliver Strunk.

An Open Appeal to #CNNDebate Moderators – Focus on the Issues

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I have been critical of the first GOP debate organized by Fox News and Facebook, despite its record-breaking audience. I’ve also written a number of posts about how the broadcast failed to focus on the issues. Given the excitement building around the CNN Debate on 16 September, let me make a simple appeal to the moderators, with apologies if this seems presumptuous:

First, avoid silly raise your hands questions. Ask simple open-ended questions about the issues. Let candidates explain their positions on some of the compelling issues of this election, such as around immigration and the Iran deal. I realize you cannot let every candidate comment on every issue, but if at least two comment, and one or more respond, you should begin to develop more voter awareness of positions on the key issues.

Secondly, avoid becoming the center of attention – that role should be left to the candidates. So rather than try to impress the audience or your peers with clever questions, try to enable the candidates to focus on the issues.

Much has been made about the degree style and personality were the key takeaways from the last debate, but that was in large part a consequence of the ways in which the debate was handled. By focusing on the issues, the style and personalities of the candidates will inevitably come through, but they will not be the only value of the debate.