Saturday, May 7, 2011
“The Elements of Style” by Will Strunk and E.B. White may be the best known book on writing style of our day. Although the book has its critics, it appeared in its fiftieth anniversary edition in 2009.
So, what made it so popular? Here is E.B. White’s speculation:
The Strunk book, which is a “right and wrong” book arrived on the scene at a time when a wave of reaction was setting in against the permissive school of rhetoric, the Anything Goes school where right and wrong do not exist and there is no foundation all down the line. The little book climbed on this handy wave and rode it in.
White describes Professor Strunk as a fundamentalist who believed in right and wrong. White largely agreed with this philosophy:
Unless someone is willing to entertain notions of superiority, the English language disintegrates, just as a home disintegrates unless someone in the family sets standards of good taste, good conduct, and simple justice.
These quotes come from “Will Strunk,” an essay in White’s “The Points of My Compass.” It probably appears in other collections of his essays, and a shorter version appears as the introduction to “The Elements of Style.”