Re. writing and how to advise others to improve their writing skills, good ol' Strunk & White is commonly dragged out as a source for useful information. Others think this is a bad idea. (Note: see comments from yesterday's post for better suggestions)
At one point, when faced with a graduate student whose writing skills were so extremely bad as to make it seem almost more likely that he was an extraterrestrial masquerading as a human than to believe that he had graduated from reputable schools with BS and MS degrees, the latter involving the writing of a thesis, I acquired the most recent edition of Strunk & White. My thought was that I would give this to him as an additional aid in my effort to get him to use verbs and punctuation and perhaps eventually paragraphs.
I had consulted S&W at various times in my youth, but as I flipped through S&W in my most recent encounter with it, I quickly realized that this book was not a good choice for a writing guide to give to my student.
Certainly there are useful parts, such as the section on words that are commonly misused. In addition, I know that I should consult the section on hyphenation more often, and I don't think anyone has ever been harmed by learning about subject-verb agreement from Strunk & White.
Even so, it is a deeply weird book.
It is hard to choose from among many candidates for my favorite passages, so I thought it might be fun to share a few, and see if readers want to share their own favorites. Here are some of mine (quoted out of context):
gut is a lustier noun than intestine
Some writers.. from sheer exuberance or a desire to show off, sprinkle their work liberally with foreign expressions, with no regard for the reader's comfort. It is a bad habit. Write in English.
Even the world of criticism has a modest pouch of private words (luminous, taut), whose only virtue is that they are exceptionally nimble and can escape from the garden of meaning over the wall.
.. writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.
And never forget:
Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.
12 years ago