If you go to the New York Times front page today and scroll down, you will see a row of boxes labeled “Inside NYTimes.com,” one of which is “Happy Birthday, Strunk and White!” If you click on it, you will be taken to their “Room for Debate” forum page, which now features a colloquium on the fiftieth anniversary of what I once called a “malign little compendium of bad advice”; the five participants are Geoffrey K. Pullum, professor of linguistics; Patricia T. O’Conner, grammarphobia.com; Ben Yagoda, professor of English; Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl; and—ahem—me. (I’d like to thank Picky for his final comment in this thread, around which I built my contribution.) I’ll be curious to see what Times readers have to say, and I hereby extend a hearty welcome to any who venture over here; all sorts of things related to language and languages get discussed here, and people of all levels of knowledge and experience have a good time. Take a look around and feel free to join in!
Update. The comments are up! I’ve read all 215 so far posted, and not surprisingly, most are defensive about their beloved icon (though a pleasing number of them admit that it may be out of date and not all the rules are dependable). Popular line of attack: so why don’t you losers write a better style guide yourselves? Popular form of exculpation: “The experienced writer has learned the rules and therefore can break or ignore them.” (This assumes, of course, that S&W are indeed providing “the rules.”) A charmingly inane variant: “I hear a subtle chorus of the postmodern view that all forms of language are equally valid and that rules impose some sort of oppression on those that won’t follow them or have their own rules.”
KCinCan (127. April 25, 2009 1:46 pm) n:icely sums up vox populi:
Stuffy and arcane doesn’t mean it is wrong or bad. I am a stickler on grammar and this book gives great guidance. I happen to believe that “None of us are perfect” is absolutely wrong; I don’t care if I don’t have a Phd in linguistics.
Where is Lynne Truss? She is the person whom I trust to give me the straight answer. Long Live Lynn!
Few of the responses were as forthrightly idiotic and self-refuting as Austin’s (65. April 25, 2009 10:18 am):
Those are the voices of the sore losers who wish they had written a book as concise and successful as the Elements of Style. Who are they to suggest that “The advice on “data” and “media” is outdated” when data and media has [sic –LH] been plural since the birth of the Latin language?
My favorite defense was by Palmer Ward (131. April 25, 2009 2:18 pm):
I love S&W simply because it was always sitting on my father’s desks – both at home and at his newspaper. It still sits on my desk in my office, as I lie on my bed downstairs writing into my laptop. I still find myself drawn to it when a thorny question arises. This shouldn’t infer I actually open it, however. I’m just drawn to it like a guilty Grandchild.
Who can argue with that? I cherish an 1855 edition of The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, not one of my favorite poets and not a book I’ll ever actually read, because it belonged to my father’s father, Daddy Joe (as we called him). Long live familial sentiment!
One comment did prick my conscience; Joe (169. April 25, 2009 9:32 pm) wrote: “Well now, I noticed that these supposed experts offered not a single alternative to the classic Strunk & White. … It’d be nice if these pundits offered some constructive advice instead of simply ripping an old and somewhat outdated standard to shreds.” Guilty as charged (speaking for the pundits collectively), and I wish one of us had put in a plug for (in my case) MWDEU.