|Book of the Month|
|The Elements of Style|
The first edition of this book was published almost a century ago. The most recent edition was published four months ago. This fact alone should tell us that 'this persistent little book' (as the Boston Globe Newspaper describes it) is an essential reference book for anyone doing literary composition. Here we look at perhaps the most popular version of the book - the third edition - which was updated and enlarged by one of Prof. Strunk's students. Nevertheless even the 'expanded' edition is just eighty-five pages in length. One reason for this is because ofthe style of Prof. Strunk himself, whose rule 'omit unnecessary words' has been followed rigorously through this book. As the author says, keeping to the point is important because 'Language is communication, so clarity is essential to language'.
The book starts by introducing the reader to Prof. Strunk and his ideas. Then it proceeds to lay down the 'rules' of style. These are generally given as clear instructions, with good examples. For example 'It's a wise dog that scratches its own fleas' neatly shows when to use the apostrophe with 'its'. There are five chapters to the book, each of which contains about a dozen rules. The exceptions are chapters three and four. Chapter three deals with 'matters of form'; by which the author means, basically, how to write without seeming to be an idiot. Tips include avoiding unnecessary exclamation marks and hyphens and not using what are today called scare quotes (where words are unnecessarily picked out by quotation marks - like 'this'!). The next chapter deals with words that were often misused, such as 'anticipate' for 'expect' and which continue to be misused in the same way generations later. The final chapter is the only chapter which suggests that it is possible to break some of the rules in the previous chapters. Here the author admits that exactly what makes a particular piece of writing great is something of a mystery. However, while it is hard to explain what makes great writing, it is easy to identify and avoid the mistakes that make bad writing.
Who is this book for? Almost anyone who writes in English will find this book useful. Advanced students who need to impress teachers and examiners with their written work will find that this book helps a great deal. Likewise university students should read this book before submitting essays. In an age when tutors have to struggle with so many poorly-written texts, a well-written piece will almost certainly get higher marks. However, not only students need good English - anyone who writes a letter to a bank manager, newspaper or government office will be taken more seriously if the letter is clear and well written.
|Verdict: A timeless guide
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