Author Topic: Cato's Grammar Grumble  (Read 564253 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline DavidRoss

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 7590
  • Location: Northern California
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1100 on: March 16, 2010, 10:38:14 AM »
Speaking of grammar, here is a penetrating critique of Strunk and White.
After you've read the linked article, there will be a brief quiz, followed by several sentences for you to diagram, such as the one in italics here.
"Maybe the problem most of you have ... is that you're not listening to Barbirolli." ~Sarge

"The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money." ~Margaret Thatcher

Scarpia

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1101 on: March 16, 2010, 11:09:32 AM »
Speaking of grammar, here is a penetrating critique of Strunk and White.

The Elements of Style contains mostly sensible advice, and I don't find the critique all that "penetrating."   From the introduction of "The Elements of Style" by E.B. White himself

Quote
Style rules of this sort are, of course, somewhat a matter of individual preference, and even the established rules of grammar are open to challenge.  Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine.

I subscribe to the old adage, that before you break the rules you have to know the rules.  If we could get access to Dick Cheney's cache of intercepted e-mails I'm willing to bet that 99.9999% of rule breaking by our citizens is due to ignorance rather than artistic license.   :D

Spotswood

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1102 on: March 16, 2010, 01:04:13 PM »
I disagree. I knew writing instructors who, following S&W, objected to any use of the verb to be as passive, as the article describes. I remember one prof actually red-penciled the phrase "He was going" as passive. I also like the observation that White keeps breaking his own rules, eg., "The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place." That's actually a good sentence, and yet it violates four of the rules S&W lay down. The disclaimer doesn't quite cut through the white noise, and in any event, I don't think White intended his grammatical rules to be broken. Rather, he was giving what he called geniuses license to cut loose.

The rule that you should know the rules before you break them makes sense only if the rules are valid to begin with.


Not that I think the book's influence is entirely bad. It was the first style book I read, and it did, at least, get me thinking about stuff like this. And I do like some of the rules, including the that/which distinction, which I do follow, even though it's pretty clear EB White made it up. But there are some rules in the book, like the one about split infinitives or avoiding the use of "people" as a plural or person, or avoiding "fix" when you mean repair, that no good writer adheres to and no good writer has ever adhered to.

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1103 on: March 16, 2010, 01:24:23 PM »
A senior member of the House Rules Committee is quoted as saying:  And I hope very much that, at the end of the day, that if we are going to have a vote, we will have . . . which not only employs the cliché at the end of the day, but throws in a superfluous that, just in case.  If he had ditched at the end of the day and perhaps simply used the adverb ultimately, he might not have forgotten that he'd already said that.

Scarpia

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1104 on: March 16, 2010, 01:28:49 PM »
I disagree. I knew writing instructors who, following S&W, objected to any use of the verb to be as passive, as the article describes.

You may have had rigid writing instructors, but I don't see what that has to do with The Elements of Style.   The book does not present the rules as set in stone, and although Strunk may personally have been an insufferable pedant, White was an extremely talented writer.


karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1105 on: March 16, 2010, 01:31:24 PM »
Extremely in that phrase strikes me as hyperbolic (almost regardless of what talented writer is being spoken of), but that does not materially alter your point. At the end of the day.

Scarpia

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1106 on: March 16, 2010, 01:34:49 PM »
Extremely in that phrase strikes me as hyperbolic (almost regardless of what talented writer is being spoken of), but that does not materially alter your point. At the end of the day.

Well, aside from Charlotte's Web, his job was to produce urbane text for "The New Yorker" whose only salient attribute was style.   Good qualifications for editing TEOS, I would say.

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1107 on: March 16, 2010, 02:30:57 PM »
Yes, I don't quarrel over his talent. One of MY stickler teachers (Lord bless 'em, every one) bemoaned overuse of 'very'—use it too often and injudiciously, and you dilute every adjective you use. He'd 've said, Don't say "very talented" where "talented" will serve;  then we don't get cornered into oddness like "extremely talented" for emphasis. How would we distinguish 'extremity' of talent, anyway?

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1108 on: March 16, 2010, 03:21:57 PM »
Or, what the heck: super-size me!

Spotswood

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1109 on: March 16, 2010, 07:38:23 PM »
You may have had rigid writing instructors, but I don't see what that has to do with The Elements of Style.   The book does not present the rules as set in stone, and although Strunk may personally have been an insufferable pedant, White was an extremely talented writer.

The point Pullam is making is that it has everything to do with the Elements of Style --- that it has been so influential and its rules have been turned into fetishes, even though they are not esssential. And even if the overempahsis fetish is the fault of the instructors and not the book, the influence of the book still needs to be rolled back. It's still the only style guide a lot of students are exposed to, and I can think of none other that insists so strongly on the use of the active voice. As the author of Lapsing Into a Comma points out, the active voice is overrated.

Pullam does acknowledge that White was a talented writer.

Personally, I found Pullam's article liberating over and above his individual arguments. Filling up on style guide rules --- or even suggestions ---  can lead to a paralysis of perfectionism. You can drive yourself crazy by second guessing every deicision you make on the page.

Scarpia

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1110 on: March 16, 2010, 08:53:36 PM »
Personally, I found Pullam's article liberating over and above his individual arguments. Filling up on style guide rules --- or even suggestions ---  can lead to a paralysis of perfectionism. You can drive yourself crazy by second guessing every deicision you make on the page.

I find this argument extremely unconvincing.  The Elements of Style is an extremely concise and only puts forward a set of common sense rules.  It has become popular precisely because it is much less stultifying than all of the alternatives.  And I see no evidence that passive voice has been endangered by this slim volume.  (No pun intended  ;D)
« Last Edit: March 16, 2010, 08:56:33 PM by Scarpia »

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1111 on: March 17, 2010, 03:09:14 AM »
Quote from: Joe"
Filling up on style guide rules --- or even suggestions ---  can lead to a paralysis of perfectionism.

Good point, but ultimately the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our style books but in ourselves . . . .

Franco

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1112 on: March 17, 2010, 06:01:52 AM »

Good point, but ultimately the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our style books but in ourselves . . . .

Hear, hear.

Spotswood

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1113 on: March 17, 2010, 07:30:09 AM »
I find this argument extremely unconvincing. 

This breaks the rule against unnecessary words, you know.  ;)

Well, nuff said. What I carry away from everyone's comments about Strunk and White is that rules are useful until we find it convenient to ignore them.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2010, 07:34:34 AM by Joe Barron »

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1114 on: March 17, 2010, 07:32:31 AM »
OTOH, Joe, we agree on the value of books, even where we ultimately disagree with even a substantial portion of the content, when they set us thinking along new paths.

Spotswood

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1115 on: March 17, 2010, 07:35:44 AM »
OTOH, Joe, we agree on the value of books, even where we ultimately disagree with even a substantial portion of the content, when they set us thinking along new paths.

No, I like the old paths. Above all, I want to be comfortable and secure in the knowledge that I'm right about everything.

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1116 on: March 17, 2010, 07:37:31 AM »
You been listening to a lot of Pelléas lately?

Scarpia

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1117 on: March 17, 2010, 07:40:04 AM »
You been listening to a lot of Pelléas lately?

The dream of Gerontius, more likely
« Last Edit: March 17, 2010, 08:43:59 AM by Scarpia »

Spotswood

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1118 on: March 17, 2010, 07:47:53 AM »
You been listening to a lot of Pelléas lately?

 ;D

Schubert and Beethoven chamber music, actually, but your point is very well taken.

Spotswood

  • Guest
Re: Cato's Grammar Grumble
« Reply #1119 on: March 17, 2010, 07:53:33 AM »
Yes, I don't quarrel over his talent. One of MY stickler teachers (Lord bless 'em, every one) bemoaned overuse of 'very'—use it too often and injudiciously, and you dilute every adjective you use. He'd 've said, Don't say "very talented" where "talented" will serve;  then we don't get cornered into oddness like "extremely talented" for emphasis. How would we distinguish 'extremity' of talent, anyway?

My ex-wife, an excellent writer and editor, once told me that a good  way to tell if you're overusing the word "very" is to substitute the word "damned" --- as in, "White was a damned talented writer." It jumps out at you at that point. 

OTOH, modifiers like "very" and "extremely" exist for a reason, and there's no need to pretend they don't. My own bad habit is overuse of "just" and "simply," which don't add much to meaning, either, but seem to me to make sentences flow more evenly. Usually, after writing a draft, I go back and take out all the justs and simplys. I'm always surprised at how many there are.

Redundancy and wordiness have their place and can be used to great rhetorical effect. Just look at Shakespeare.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2010, 07:55:23 AM by Joe Barron »