Language Log vs. Strunk and White

Regarding my aforelinked praise for Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a bunch of DF readers emailed with links to criticism of the book from the linguistics weblog Language Log. I think Language Log is terrific; I can’t say I read it regularly, but I enjoy it when I do. That said, having read through Language Log’s criticism of S&W, I can only conclude they just don’t get it. E.g., regarding S&W’s admonition against starting a sentence with “However,” S&W aren’t arguing that you can’t or that the construction is ungrammatical — rather, they’re arguing that you generally shouldn’t. It’s a recommendation, not a law.

More absurd is this piece from LL contributor Heidi Harley:

I was curious about how Strunk and White would formulate the notion of ‘related words’, so I went to check it out. And, I kid you not, this is the formulation of the rule:

“The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.”

I was afraid someone was playing a joke on me. But no, that’s really it! I was so amazed, of course, because the statement of the rule violates itself.

That the sentence goes against its own advice clearly is a joke, but Harley goes on to spend a paragraph deconstructing the sentence to show that, yes, duh, as a rule is itself a phrase that could be transferred to the beginning of the sentence — as though Strunk and White were, perhaps, utter morons.

It’s exactly the bits like this one that make Strunk and White so beloved.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009