50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

Geoffrey K. Pullum

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.
I won’t be celebrating.
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.
The authors won’t be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte’s Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk’s death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.

One thought on “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice”

  1. Great piece.
    Not a full course on grammar, but Lynne Truss’ two books “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, and “Talk to the Hand” are quite wonderfully funny.
    One of my favorite books on the subject is “Adios, Strunk and White” by Garry and Glynis Hoffman. Teaches writing style but also makes one a better reader.
    On grammar, however. Have you noticed that TV reporters, and too many others say “between you and I”. Really grates my cheese.
    Sorry folks, that is bad grammar. Somewhere, maybe by Strunk and White?, they were told not to use the word “me”, or that using the word “I” sounds more sophisticated than “me”.

Comments are closed.