Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Further And Gratuitous Dissing of The Precious Little Book

Here is more on the wisdom of Strunk and White which we are supposed to genuflect before and kiss the hem of.

"Put statements in positive form," they stipulate, in a section that seeks to prevent "not" from being used as "a means of evasion."

"Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs," they insist. (The motivation of this mysterious decree remains unclear to me.)

And then, in the very next sentence, comes a negative passive clause containing three adjectives: "The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place."

That's actually not just three strikes, it's four, because in addition to contravening "positive form" and "active voice" and "nouns and verbs," it has a relative clause ("that can pull") removed from what it belongs with (the adjective), which violates another edict: "Keep related words together."

"Keep related words together" is further explained in these terms: "The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning." That is a negative passive, containing an adjective, with the subject separated from the principal verb by a phrase ("as a rule") that could easily have been transferred to the beginning. Another quadruple violation.

The book's contempt for its own grammatical dictates seems almost willful, as if the authors were flaunting the fact that the rules don't apply to them. But I don't think they are. Given the evidence that they can't even tell actives from passives, my guess would be that it is sheer ignorance. They know a few terms, like "subject" and "verb" and "phrase," but they do not control them well enough to monitor and analyze the structure of what they write.

You know, I think the only reason that book was ever influential was because White wrote about it in the friggin' New Yorker.  If he'd written it in an academic magazine published in Iowa or Arkansas it wouldn't have ever gotten off the ground.  Which proves only what a bad idea it is to base a nation's life of the mind on fashion as published in an overrated magazine that specializes in a particular, mannered style of fiction.   Only I think someone might have a stroke if I started making fun of the mandatory inclusion of brand names in fiction of a semi-cosy nature.   References to private schools and Ivy League universities. And don't get me started on condescending reference to rustics in my home state, colonized by such folk.

Update: The faulty memory of the Eschaton Brain Trust or Duncan's rump, as I'm coming to think of them.

My morning e-mail calls my attention to this little slam.

Adam_Hominem  DWD • 14 hours ago
I think so. There are two things I remember about AM: 1)extremely disruptive, disruption for the sake of it, and 2) assuring us Bush would lose in 2004.
 • Reply•Share ›

AM, that would be me.  Well, back in 2004 I was a regular at Eschaton but I posted comments under a pseudonym back then,  I wonder if Adam can tell everyone what that was off the top of his head.

I also never assured anyone that Bush would lose in 2004.  It would be entirely foreign to my personality to assure anyone of the outcome of an election -  I would be certain that I'd be jinxing the Democrats if I said something like that and I was entirely unimpressed with the campaign of John Kerry, which I criticized for 1. being in the hands of idiots 2. weak in its response to the smears and lies, 3. having a candidate whose nomination I didn't support because I didn't think he could win.  I also recall, frequently, giving his nomination as an example of why the influence of New Hampshire by virtue of its status as the state that had the first primary was a bad thing since they've supported at least two very weak candidates who used that to go on to get the nomination only to predictably lose the election in the previous two decades.  If there is something I've been since my earliest conscious years, it's an opponent of the influence of the New Hampshire primary.

As to disruption, I've never disrupted anything without having a point to it.  That, at times, the point is nothing more than to point out what a bunch of slaves to conventional thinking the kewl kids such as at the Brain Trust are, doesn't change the fact that it's a point.   Why do you think I included those two empty idols with feet of clay, Strunk and White, in my off-hand post about resolutions?   I knew the kind of conformist mid-brows that would enrage and the effects of their  insipid, superficial thinking.


  1. Shorter Sparky: I'm a better writer than the author of "Stuart Little" and "Charlotte's Web" ever dreamed of being! Smarter, too!

    1. I think you have more in common with Lilian Hellman, as I've pointed out before, Sims, even every comma you write is a lie.

  2. Hey Sparky -- I know you're such a pompous snob that you don't watch television, but Turner Classic Movies is running your beloved mopheads in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT in a few minutes.

    You know -- the movie Andrew Sarris called,with justification, "The CITIZEN KANE of jukebox musicals."

    Still as fresh as paint after half a century. Not to mention charming, inventive and witty.

    Plus 12 great songs, which you're too dessicated an old prune to appreciate. How sad.

    1. The Mophead Musical, yeah, your idea of high kulcha.

  3. Really? An argument over Strunk and White?

    Let an English teacher of composition weigh in:

    I've never used it. Heard of it long after I left with my MA in English. Not before. Never consulted it, nor felt the need to. To the extent it is a prescriptive grammar, rather than a descriptive one, it was already out of date by the time I entered college (in the mid-'70's).

    Never cared for prescriptive grammars, even though I was taught to honor them in thought, word, and deed. At least taught that until I got to college.

    Style books are bunk, anyway. They teach you to emulate the author, nothing more nor less. You want to write like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound, Orwell, Madox Ford? Be my guest. You want to write like E.B. White, have at it. He was a fine prose writer.

    But you don't need to write in his style, or following his prescriptions, to write well. Eschew obfuscation is the only advice I give my students. Actually, I don't even tell 'em that.

    But S&W? Gathering dust on the shelves of equally moldy Easterners, far as I can tell. Don't know anybody who ever admired, revered, or even referenced it; except people who didn't write all that well when they did.

  4. I'm just killing time because the idiots down the road are setting off fireworks and I can't sleep. I enjoy getting the great iconoclasts in their own minds of the Brain Trust to expose what conventional thinkers they are.

    If I had to choose a writer to emulate it would have to be someone who said something I admire. I've never understood how technique could be separated from its substance. I think the day I realized I'd never had a strong feeling from reading Hemingway and suspecting it was related to his 4th grade level writing. I look at the people who have written well about things I'm interested in and none of them has had that kind of determinedly simple writing style. I think there is a correspondence between the complexity of the idea and the language that has to be used to adequately express it. Though I might be wrong I wouldn't know how to express the ideas I work with in that kind of language.

  5. I've come to admire Hemingway, even though his prose is sometimes labored. He tries too hard to simplify, at times, and misses altogether.

    OTOH, "A Moveable Feast," especially the newly released, longer version, is genius. Maybe because he didn't have a chance to over-edit himself.

    1. I'll have to try it sometime. It's been a while since I've attempted Hemingway who I think also had, as they say, issues of masculinity. In the past I've found him to be as appealing as over-boiled patty pan squash without so much as salt.

  6. As for the Eschaton brain trust: every time I read a comment from there (only here, that is), I remember why I don't bother with it anymore.

    Same reason I'm leaving Salon alone, except to read an article or two as it catches my eye: too many children, too big a sandbox.

    1. I only look at it when someone sends me a link to a comment mentioning me. Though seeing what happened to Duncan's once promising writing potential is sort of a warning of what to watch out for. I've been encouraged to used Disqus here but I'm afraid of what happens when it's too easy to make anonymous comments. It's like everyone's back in jr. high.

    2. It was that way long before I left.

      I just should have left much, much sooner.

  7. Adding: case in point about Salon: the hot argument as I speak is over the capitalization of the word "God" in English, when it refers to the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

    You'd be amazed how vociferous the replies are; then again, maybe you wouldn't.

    1. Oh. Well, the reason I always capitalize it and words referring to God is largely the same reason I use CE and BCE, because it annoys the right people. If they really want to push that I'll capitalize all of them.

      It's like their thinking only extends as far as the conventions of sports fandom.

      Joan Walsh, a few others who post pieces there are worth the trouble but the cooky cutter atheist click bait is rather stupifyingly homogeneous and predictable.

    2. The article actually boiled down to a simple grammatical point: "God" in English usage is a proper noun, not a mere noun.

      The author compared it to FoxNews speaking of the "Democrat" party. To write 'god" when you mean "God" is an intentional misuse meant only to annoy, and it makes the users look petty and vindictive. Which is what most of the comments were.

      As usual at Salon, it's easy to see who read the article, v. who read and reacted to the headline. It was, as the author of the article admitted, a vanishingly small point, but it still made the usual suspects foam at the mouth.

      To compare it to jr. high, or even to s sandbox, is an insult to adolescents and small children, who are never that bad.

      And, yeah, using BCE and CE (which I learned to do in seminary, as a sign of respect, if nothing else) annoys idiots, too; who seem annoyed because it is unfamiliar, more than anything else. For example of that reasoning, there was a comment at Salon about Orthodox Jews who spell the name "G-d", which is somehow something that shouldn't be respected, either.

      In fact there were a lot of comments about how those who spell with small "g" wouldn't respect those who did until....well, something. It was a sure way to get them to respect the atheists, ya know.

      Honestly, most of those people think the universe is trapped in their navel.

  8. Green M&Ms are the best tasting, Sparky. That's FACT, you snob!

    1. Says the man who posts all of that elitist historical stuff.

      Now, there, see. If I didn't read your blog how would I know those kinds of things? And those with real savoir faire know the real sophisticates eat only nonpareil.

  9. What is it about the green ones?