The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
I impulse-checked-out this book from the library one day, then impulse-bought SunChips that evening, and came home and gorged myself on both.
(This was not planned, the book-and-chips binge. It was all nothing but impulsive. Sometimes things get crazy around here.)
I meant to eat a few chips while I read the first few pages, at which point I’d put down the books and the chips and do something virtuous, productive, and worthy of praise.
Instead, I ate half the bag of chips for dinner (it was one of those big bags, guys) and gulped down half a style manual at the same time.
Yes, this is my life.
The thing is: I was dealing with addictive substances!
Strunk & White pulled me right in, and I kept feeling relief followed by horror, as I realized which guidelines I follow religiously and which I violate like a felon.*
(Cripe: Is it any surprise I needed to comfort myself with chips?)
So here are a few of their edicts that sum things up:
- “Use definite, specific, concrete language.” (p. 37)
- “Write with nouns and verbs.” (p. 105)
- “Omit needless words.” (p. 39)
I’ve been doing this one consciously lately, and it feels almost as good as decluttering my house.
Strunk & White sometimes sound cantankerous, but sometimes they just make me smile.
Here’s one instance: “Many nouns have lately been pressed into service as verbs. Not all are bad, but all are suspect.” And then their example: “Be prepared for kisses when you gift your girlfriend with this merry scent.” (p. 82) (“Gift” as a verb makes me gag. Anyone with me on this?)
And, one of my favorites: “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and
sometimes nauseating.” (p. 105)
*I’ve probably just broken at least 7 of their rules. And I’m too damn lazy to cite chapter and
verse. If anyone else wishes to do so, have at it. And pass the chips, please.