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REVIEW: The Elements of Style

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How could you not like a book with this cute dog in it?  Well, it’s a grammar book – and it’s fabulous!  E.B. White was my first fan letter.  Not for this book of course, but the famous Charlotte’s Web.  I was so excited to get a letter back.  I remember it being a form letter – but it was awesome!

I am not sure about you, but I’ve heard about The Elements of Style  for years.  But, for me, reading a grammar book was not top on my list.  First, I know I am not good at it, and second, I am not good at it…I couldn’t think of a less desirable way to spend my time.  But the book was recommended once too many times and I grudgingly looked it up at the library last week.  To my surprise an illustrated version was produced in 2005 – ok, that made it better.  The dog above shows the quality and the fun aspects to the illustrations. 

Boy was I surprised.  I certainly didn’t expect it also to be funny! Here are two of my favorites:

1.  Flammable. An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives. The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means “not combustible.” For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE. Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.

2.  Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means "sickening to contemplate"; the second means "sick at the stomach." Do not, therefore, say, "I feel nauseous," unless you are sure you have that effect on others.

Hilarious don’t you think?  The book also contained invaluable writing advice (these tips are from E.B. White, the rest of the book was predominantly written by his teacher – William Strunk Jr. and included: words and expressions commonly misused, a few matters of form, elementary rules of usage, elementary principles of composition and commonly misspelled words).

Here are E.B. White’s suggestions to help the beginner find the way to satisfactory style.  You will have to read the book to find out how these work.  It’s worth it.

1. Place yourself in the background.

2. Write in a way that comes naturally.

3. Work from a suitable design.

4. Write with nouns and verbs.

5. Revise and rewrite.

6. Do not overwrite.

7. Do not overstate.

8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.

9. Do not affect a breezy manner.

10. Use orthodox spelling.

11. Do not explain too much.

12. Do not construct awkward adverbs.

13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.

14. Avoid fancy words.

15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.

16. Be clear.

17. Do not inject opinion.

18. Use figures of speech sparingly.

19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.

20. Avoid foreign languages.

21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat.

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