The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White today is often taken for granted, almost lost in the libraries of most writers, but it still offers specific help and is a helpful reference tool.
William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University, had the book privately printed in 1918 to help his students with grammar. Often referred to as that “little book,” The Elements of Style originally was 43 pages long and sold for 25 cents. It was published by Harcourt in 1920.
Later, author E. B. White was commissioned in 1957 by Macmillan Publishing Co. to update the book, so it was available to the general public. It was titled Strunk and White Elements of Style.
He wrote that he could almost hear his professor giving commands about writing, such as “be concise,” omit needless words,” and “use the active voice.”
One of Strunk’s former students, White is known for writing Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and a column for The New Yorker. He was commissioned in 1957 by Macmillan Publishing Co. to update the book, so it was available to the general public.
White wrote that he could almost hear his professor giving commands about writing, such as “be concise,” omit needless words,” and “use the active voice.”
In 2011, Time named it one of the 100 best and most influential books written on English.
The Elements of Style offers lots of good advice and is still important today. It offers a good review of basics. Sometimes it is fun to just browse through it and find words misused or unnecessary. It can remind us of little rules we may have forgotten, even after years of writing.
A bit of humor – Dorothy Parker was supposed to have said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
One of the first blogs I wrote in 2012 was about The Elements of Style. That blog shared information from two books written about that little book. Each author had a different view. You can check out their thoughts in the blog I wrote in 2012.
- Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey. I noted that he might have been slightly obsessed, but agreed that it was a must-have book.
- Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style, Arthur Plotnik, gives reasons why he thinks Strunk & White is too rigid for today’s changing world.
As I wrote back then: “Isn’t it great that we have access to such variety.” We have more information from which we can make up our own mind about how much we want to use from the various books and other writing advice.
Besides enjoying reading of these two books, I was thrilled to get a comment from Arthur Plotnik saying “It's always inspiriting to know of a balanced, thoughtful reading of my book, especially in relation to the iconic "The Elements of Style." Thank you, Jo. You blog spunkily and with bite. ---Art Plotnik
What an inspiring comment. Whether you ask a question, offer additional information, or just want to keep in touch.