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Unpublished paper, submitted for publication December 2009. Copyright c 2009 by Geoffrey K. Pullum.

Address: School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK. Please do not cite or quote this version without checking with the author (gpullum@ling.ed.ac.uk).

Prescriptive grammar in America


The Land of the Free and The Elements of Style1 Geoffrey K. Pullum
Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh
Abstract The Elements of Style is a book of advice on grammar and writing that originated as a course text prepared by Professor William Strunk at Cornell University. Revised by E. B. White and marketed to a wider audience, it sold more than ten million copies, and is much loved and revered by educated Americans. But just about everything it says about the grammar of Standard English is wrong. This paper presents a critique, and argues that the book should be regarded as harmful to the study of English and the teaching of writing.

Introduction

The Elements of Style was conceived, written, and privately published by Professor William Strunk, who made it a required text for his English 8 course at Cornell University. One student who purchased it was a young man then known as Andy White, who went on to become, as E. B. White, one of the most respected writers for The New Yorker, and author of much-loved childrens books like Charlottes Web and Stuart Little. After White published a New Yorker memoir about Strunk and his little book, White was asked by the publisher Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for republication. White did so. The book took off, and sold millions of copies. Today many Americans love and revere it and travel with it. Charles Osgood (in an encomium added to the 4th edition (p. 87) claimed that he regularly carried a copy in his pocket; Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post (5 September 2008) wrote that it had been his constant companion for fty years and added that he would be pleased to be buried with it: it might actually assure my passage through the Pearly Gates. In 2005 an expensively illustrated version of the book appeared with cartoons pictorializing the examples, and some of it was performed to music at an event in New York. Antibooks have appeared (Hoffman and Hoffman 1997, latest edition 2003; Plotnik 2006). And 2009 saw the publication of a fawning book-length appreciation (Garvey, 2009) as well as a fty-year hardback anniversary reissue of the 4th edition. Much of the advice about composition in Elements is vapid and obvious: Do not overwrite; Be clear; and so on. I will say little about advice of this sort, which seems (as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy said of Earth) mostly harmless. My interest here will be in
Some parts of this paper were presented at the workshop on Normative Linguistics at the ISLE conference in Freiburg, October 2008. I am grateful to a number of friends including Rodney Huddleston, Mark Liberman, Geoffrey Nunberg, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, David Reibel, and Arnold Zwicky, for educative comments and correspondence over several years, and to Chad Nilep and Andrea Olinger for research help. Special thanks to Jan Freeman and David Russinoff for detailed comments and generous assistance with matters bibliographical.
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the statements about grammar, which I think have had bad effects, and continue to do harm today. It should not be thought, on the basis of the title, that the grammar claims are a side issue. White actually begins his added nal chapter, An Approach to Style, by saying: Up to this point, the book has been concerned with what is correct, or acceptable, in the use of English. In this nal chapter, we approach style in its broader meaning: style in the sense of what is distinguished and distinguishing. Here we leave solid ground. So it is Whites own view of Elements that all of the rst four chapters concern the solid ground of grammatical correctness and acceptability rather than style per se. And indeed, the book is frequently cited as a high authority on grammar. Hardly any of the collegeeducated Americans who cite it realize just how badly off-beam its syntactic claims are. And almost none are aware of the astonishing hypocrisy that lies behind some parts of it particularly those added by White. Most users of the book probably do not appreciate how extraordinarily out of date it is. Strunk is not just a 20th-century scholar whose education harked back to the 19th. He is a 19th-century gure. He was born in 1869, when General Custer could still look forward to several more years of a successful military career. Strunk had learned his English, and doubtless xed most of his ideas about grammar, long before Oscar Wilde ever had a play on the stage. If his booklet seems somewhat Victorian, it is no surprise: Strunks birth, B.A., Ph.D., and entry into the professoriate at Cornell all fell during Victorias reign. Nor was White a child of the 20th century: he was born in July 1899, and was in many ways a conservative. The year in which he bought his copy of Strunks original version of the book, a year after its rst publication, was 1919. It astonishes me to see this work by two Victorian gentlemen still being recommended to 21st-century college students as a guide for writing. But my main charges against The Elements of Style as a source of grammatical information have very little to do with its 19th-century roots. They have to do with its inaccuracy and in some cases, its outright mendacity. It is not that the grammar content of the book is occasionally wrong; almost everything it says about grammar is wrong. Its grammatical advice is a toxic mix of atavism, purism, sexism, and idiosyncratic peeving. But unfortunately it has been enormously inuential, and has fuelled some of the worst perversions of grammar teaching in America. (Much less in Britain; there are very few signs of it being treated as an important reference within UK universities.) It has induced millions of educated Americans to fear prescriptive rules that the best British writers either ignore or never even heard of. Anecdotal evidence from the many people who have told me their Strunk and White stories suggests to me that the book has played a part in the trivialization of the teaching of English grammar in American schools and colleges. Grammar is widely thought to comprise a short list of supercially and inaccurately dened proscriptions and warnings. I will catalogue a few examples in this paper. In what follows I will try to minimize the need to distinguish between the half-dozen bibliographical strata of Elements, but it will be essential to distinguish the White revisions from Strunks original 1918 version of the book. The text of the latter can be found online at http://www.bartleby.com/141, and I will trust this transcription, citing it as S1e , since copies of the original book are rare (I have never seen a copy of either the 1918 edition or the retitled revision co-authored with Edward Tenney in 1934). The White revision of 1959 was expanded slightly in 1972 and revised very slightly in 1979 and 2000. I will mostly cite the 4th edition (Strunk and White 2000, henceforth S&W4e ), since it remains in print 2

and there have been no substantive changes to the text since that edition (it has an index, an extra preface, and a few cosmetic updates like inserting toner cartridges on p. 82 of S&W4e where the 1979 edition spoke of ink erasers). Only where absolutely necessary will I refer explicitly to the 1959, 1972, and 1979 versions of the White revision.

Inaccuracy

In this section I review several cases in which Strunk and/or White present accounts of the grammatical facts about Standard English that are agrantly contradicted by the facts of educated usage not just the usage of the early 21st century but that of the early 20th century as well.

2.1

Verb agreement

The topic of 9 in S&W4e , added by White in the 1972 update of the 1959 revision, is the rule that The number of the subject determines the number of the verb. This is true, though not complete (White ignores the relevance of person). The reader is told to Use a singular verb form after each, either, everyone, everybody, neither, nobody, someone. A strange example is given at this point: Everybody thinks he has a unique sense of humor. No native speakers are tempted to use plural verb agreement with everybody or with everyone, nobody, no one, somebody, or someone. If the point of the example were really supposed to be the verb form has, we would have to assume White was tone deaf to plausible errors for native speakers. But I believe White is grinding two different axes, and has mixed them up here. The rst is that we do sometimes nd Standard English speakers using plural agreement with each, either, and neither. I think White was trying to stamp this usage out. But I think the second point may have been the deeper motivation of his example, a point concerning the pronoun he. The example is ambiguous, but it is reasonable to think the intended meaning did not involve an exophoric he, with no antecedent; rather, the example was intended to mean Every person is an x such that x thinks x has a unique sense of humor. In other words, White seems to be preparing us to be prejudiced against singular they which is indeed deprecated later in the book (I return to the topic below). With none, White goes on, use the singular verb when the word means no one or not one. Here White gives None of us are perfect as a wrong example, the correction being None of us is perfect. But surely White must have known that this is a famous line from literature: it is uttered by the learned Canon Chasuble in the second act of Oscar Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Was Wilde depicting Dr. Chasuble as unable to control Standard English? I dont think so. White is simply handing us a rule that does not accord in any way with Standard English practice not even during the period of his youth, let alone the 1950s or later. Further spot checks on the accuracy of his claim are easy to carry out. I took a random novel from about a hundred years ago Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897), published two years before White was born and searched it for none of us. There are seven occurrences. Six are subjects of preterites or modals where there is no agreement; and the seventh is this sentence: (1) I think that none of us were surprised when we were asked to see Mrs. Harker a little before the time of sunset. (Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 25)

So in the only example providing relevant evidence in that book, none of us takes plural agreement. Searching for none of us on Google with the restriction site:gutenberg.org brings up many more examples from classic literature; for example, It is a very remarkable thing that none of us are really Copernicans in our actual outlook upon things (G. K. Chesterton, The Defendant). And it brings up cases where none of us takes singular verbs too; but the point is that there is variation here, and no one who looks for evidence could think that good writers avoid none of us are. Did White do even as much searching in literature as I have already done? It seems unlikely; he lacked both the modern tools of the Internet age and the old-fashioned patience of an Otto Jespersen. So he presents a logic-based dictum that none must be singular even when it has a clearly plural partitive complement like of us without a word of justication and (not that the student would know this) without a shred of support. Thomas Lounsbury remarked scathingly, ten years before S1e was published, in his book The Standard of Usage in English:2 There is no harm in a mans limiting his employment of none to the singular in his own individual usage, if he derives any pleasure from this particular form of linguistic martyrdom. But why should he go about seeking to inict upon others the misery which owes its origin to his own ignorance? (Lounsbury 1908). One can only say amen.

2.2

Pronoun case

Section 10 of S&W4e , also added by White, is headed Use the proper case of pronouns. Good if simple-minded advice, to be sure: everyone would like to be proper. But White peddles some unmotivated stipulations. Pronouns as copular complements Whites rst block of examples of correct pronoun case includes this one: (2) The culprit, it turned out, was he. Any suggestion that this is normal style in the 21st century would of course be absurd. But it is fairly clear that it would not have been normal even in 1918 (especially in the informal style suggested by the parenthetical it turned out in (2)). This was true even in Strunks day. The characters in Lucy Maud Montgomerys Anne of Avonlea, a popular book published in the USA in 1909, said things like if I was her rather than if I were she. How could anyone justify teaching American undergraduates a hundred years later to write anything like the culprit was he? Like having on the statute books an ancient law that is no longer enforced, it brings the law into disrepute. And there is always the chance that some lunatic might try to actually use it.3 Fused subject relative in object function Another example in the same block, also intended to illustrate proper pronoun case, exemplies the interesting case of a fused relative construction, with wh-phrase in subject function, used as object of a preposition:
Quoted by Ben Zimmer in Lounsbury on linguistic martyrdom and the transience of slang, on Language Log at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/myl/languagelog/archives/005370.html on 7 February 2008. 3 Recall that the awful decency campaigner Mrs. Mary Whitehouse exhumed the almost-forgotten English law of blasphemous libel in 1977, and managed to get a magazine editor sentenced to nine months imprisonment for publication of a poem. Appeals were not successful (though ultimately the jail sentence was suspended).
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(3) Give this work to whoever looks idle. The statement in the text is that whoever is the subject of looks idle; the object of the preposition to is the entire clause whoever looks idle. But this fused relative cannot possibly be a clause. Clauses cannot be objects of prepositions: (4) *Give this work to that man over there looks idle. The phrase whoever looks idle functions semantically as recipient, and syntactically as the object of a preposition, and it denotes a person. Although it certainly has the form of a clause, any coherent theory of syntax has to make it a noun phrase (NP). A resolution of this syntactic conundrum was a long time coming, but I think John Payne and Rodney Huddleston hit on the right answer (see chapter 5 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum et al., Cambridge University Press, 2002, henceforth CGEL). Without going into the technical details, that essence of the analysis is that whoever has two functions: it is both the head of an NP and the subject of a relative clause inside it. And the quandary about what the case form should be is real: Whites condence that nominative is the right answer here is just an unsupported stipulation. The right answer is that it simply is not clear which case is right. Expert speakers differ in the choice that they make. I am not suggesting that White should have been aware of a syntactic analysis worked out decades after he died, of course. I am merely pointing to the unwarranted character of his dogmatic pronouncements about syntax. He stipulated resolutions of disputes he didnt even understand. Relative pronouns and embedded subjects White continues with some examples of a related awkward case, that of a relative pronoun keyed to subject function embedded in a relative clause but not at the top level. One of these is declared to be right and the other wrong: (5) a. b. Virgil Soames is the candidate who we think will win. Virgil Soames is the candidate whom we think will win.

White simply asserts that (5a) is right and (5b) is wrong: the nominative should be picked. Why? Because of what he thinks is the relevant rule of grammar. He states it thus (S&W4e , 11): (6) When who introduces a subordinate clause, its case depends on its function in that clause. But which clause does who introduce in (5)? It introduces the relative clause we think will win. And who is NOT the subject of that relative clause; the subject is we. Although there is a gap in subject function embedded inside it, the pronoun who is, at least arguably, a non-subject relativiser here. English certainly does distinguish syntactically between subject of the relative clause and subject of a clause within the relative clause. In the former case that-relatives are allowed but contact clauses are (in Standard English) disallowed, but in the latter case both are permitted: (7) Gap as subject of relative clause: a. b.

I need the attachment that I need the attachment []

goes with this thing. goes with this thing. 5

(8) Gap as subject of clause embedded in relative clause: a. b. I need the attachment that the vendor says I need the attachment [] the vendor says goes with this thing. goes with this thing.

So by Whites rule that the case of the relative pronoun that introduces a subordinate clause depends on its function in that clause actually requires us to consider (5b), with the accusative form, that should be correct, since whom is not subject of the clause it introduces. The excellent Merriam-Websters Dictionary of English Usage (1994) notes that Jespersen disagreed with Fowler on this point, and cited numerous examples of excellent authors (Fielding and Dickens, for example), picking the accusative in cases like who(m) we think will win, while others pick the nominative, and some (Shakespeare; Franklin; Boswell) vary between the two. The matter does not have a denitive resolution on the basis of good literary usage. White just grabs at an edict and announces it, failing to notice that it does not accord with the rule that he gives as its justication. He is no syntactician, but he plays at being one when performing his role as writing guru.

2.3

However

S1e states an edict concerning the connective adjunct use of however that is unusually easy to falsify: However. In the meaning nevertheless, not to come rst in its sentence or clause. It is preserved in S&W4e (pp. 4849) in the following form: Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is nevertheless. How could this possibly be represented as a rule of good writing, when it is so easy to see that ne writers do not observe it, even just by casual reading? Today such things can be rapidly checked on electronic texts. In a few seconds I veried that Alices Adventures in Wonderland has 19 occurrences of however followed by a comma, and all of them are initial in their clause. Did Lewis Carroll not know how to write? Certainly, authors vary in their placement of connective adjunct however: Mark Liberman has noted4 that Henry James was mostly in conformity with Strunks edict, placing however in non-initial position nearly 94% of the time (though even that leaves over 6% of the cases that are clause-initial, which would need explanation if the syntax of English forbids it). But other authors differ massively. Liberman looked at Mark Twain, and found that over two-thirds of Twains uses of the connective adjunct however are clause-initial. Oscar Wildes play The Importance of Being Earnest is very similar: 8 sentence-initial instances and only 4 later in a clause, a ratio of 2 to 1. And modern prose is not very different, even when it has been through copy-editing. In the Wall Street Journal corpus of 19871989 newspaper prose (henceforth WSJ), nearly 40% of the total are sentence-initial. Strunk may have been trying to inculcate habits of writing like Henry James rather than like Mark Twain (not the best advice for everyone, surely!). But it is indefensible in the 21st century to maintain that good writing never uses however to introduce a clause. His motivation may have been fear of what Arnold Zwicky calls temporary potential ambiguity.5 Strunk acknowledges that However you advise him, he will probably do as he
The evolution of disornamentation, on Language Log at http://158.130.17.5/myl/languagelog/ archives/001912.html on 21 February 2005. 5 Once you look for temporary potential ambiguity, youll nd it everywhere, on Language Log at http: //languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=267, 24 June 2008.
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thinks best (where however means regardless of how) is ne. He may have worried that confusion might threaten if we allowed the other however also to appear clause-initially. But if this was the worry, it is a very strange one. I have not been able to construct any convincing case of unresolvable ambiguity between the regardless of how meaning and the nevertheless meaning. The comma after the latter invariably disambiguates. And even if ambiguity did occasionally arise, a blanket ban on initial placement of the word in the latter sense would not be motivated. We dont work on improving driving skills by banning the internal combustion engine. We shouldnt try to improve undergraduate writing skills by insisting on blanket prohibitions that are wildly at odds with published prose.

2.4

Singular they

Strunk was perfectly well aware that they was used with morphosyntactically singular antecedents, especially quantied or indenite ones, and that it was gaining ground even ninety years ago. Some of what he said was quite perceptive. He noted that perhaps in order to avoid clumsy he or she disjunctions, speakers were using the pronoun they with quantied antecedents like someone. He even added that Some bashful speakers even say, A friend of mine told me that they, etc.. But the advice he laid down, nonetheless, was simply this: They. A common inaccuracy is the use of the plural pronoun when the antecedent is a distributive expression such as each, each one, everybody, every one, many a man, which, though implying more than one person, requires the pronoun to be in the singular. Similar to this, but with even less justication, is the use of the plural pronoun with the antecedent anybody, any one, somebody, some one, the intention being either to avoid the awkward he or she, or to avoid committing oneself to either. There is a little sleight of hand here. Strunk says a distributive expression requires the pronoun to be in the singular. What is quite true of the expressions he cites (everyone, etc.) is that they require the tensed verb of their clause to be in the singular: it is everyone is, not *everyone are, and that is uncontroversial. But what is required of an anaphoric pronoun having the expression as its antecedent is not determined by that. Pronouns in English happen not to be deployed according to a rule that can be simplistically conated with the subject-verb agreement rule. Oscar Wildes Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest is far from being a bashful college kid wanting to conceal their friends gender, but she says (when explaining why she wants Algernon to arrange suitable music for a social event): (9) It is my last reception, and one wants something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end of the season when everyone has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably not much. The antecedent of they is everyone. It visibly takes singular agreement on has. Strunks edict stipulates that this formidable society grande dame must be dismissed as evincing a common inaccuracy. (Notice, Earnest was very much a contemporary play for Strunk, who was 25 when it was rst staged.) The policy that Strunk stipulates is: Use he with all the above words, unless the antecedent is or must be feminine. So he is recommending (10). (10) ? This job is open to any boy or girl who thinks he can handle it. 7

Whites 1959 revised edition kept this policy in place, and it remained through subsequent editions. This is not because White simply didnt know that singular they is normal Standard English. We do not know whether he was aware of the instances found in Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, and hundreds of other much-admired authors; but what is certain is that, as Jan Freeman pointed out,6 you can read a character in Whites novel Charlottes Web saying: But somebody taught you, didnt they? And if the defense here would be that he wanted to allow the inaccuracy in dialogue but not in formal prose that what is at issue is really just a slight style difference then why wouldnt The Elements of Style simply say so? It doesnt. It says that didnt they? is wrong. And in fact Strunks policy would have had the character in Charlottes Web saying: But somebody taught you, didnt he? which of course sounds ridiculous. Later editions have added to the discussion of how to avoid the apparent sexist implications of what CGEL calls purportedly sex-neutral he. The question is whether to risk the clumsiness of the disjunctive he or she, how to rephrase in the plural so the issue doesnt arise, and so on. The reviewer for the journal Telephone Engineer and Management praised the book in a quote on the back cover of the third edition, in the 1970s, with the unintendedly humorous remark, It is hard to imagine an engineer or a manager who doesnt need to express himself in English prose as part of his job. One wonders how often any woman engineer or manager needed to express himself in those days. Of course, we should remember the great age of the book. When Strunk took the view that Everyone should cast their vote should be corrected to Everyone should cast his vote, women still didnt have the vote in America. There was much less excuse in the 1970s, however, for eschewing such a convenient and popular way to avoid sexually discriminatory pronoun choices. Dragging purportedly sex-neutral he into the 21st century, as S&W4e does, seems to me simply unconscionable.

2.5

The split innitive

The split innitive construction was not mentioned in the compendium of Words and expressions commonly misused in S1e (if the Bartleby.com transcription is accurate), but appears to have been added two years later when the little-known rst trade edition of Strunks book was published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe (Strunk 1920, p. 45).7 Strunk simply says: Split Innitive. There is precedent from the fourteenth century downward for interposing an adverb between to and the innitive which it governs, but the construction is in disfavor and is avoided by nearly all careful writers. The construction was not in disfavor, and was not avoided by nearly all careful writers. George O. Curme would later make this clear with a huge collection from literary works, a sample of which are supplied in his volume Syntax (1930, 458467, esp. 461465; see also Curme 1914). Curme asserts rmly that adjuncts between to and the verb of an innitival complement have been employed in English syntax throughout the history of the language; that the option is useful and effective; and that it is actually more characteristic of good writing than either conversation (where the phrase planning that leads to pre-head adjuncts is a bit less common) or the work of minor authors (who Curme suggests respect the prejudice against split innitives out of cowardice and insecurity).
In her newspaper column Frankenstrunk, http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/ 10/23/frankenstrunk/ in the Boston Sunday Globe, 23 October 2005. 7 I have not had access to an actual copy of this edition but I have studied a scanned facsimile.
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White retained the 1920 paragraph, and added to it inexpertly. In S&W4e (p. 58) he states that the construction should be avoided unless the writer wishes to place unusual stress on the adverb. Here his incompetence rears its head: he has it exactly wrong. It is not the preverbal position that stresses the adverb, but (usually) the reverse, as Curme notes (1930, 459460). A sentence like It would be hard to adequately expr ss it would be a suitable e word order for emphasising the verb. To emphasise the contribution of the manner adverb one would shift the order to It would be hard to express it adequately, with the VP-nal nuclear stress falling on ad.8 White returns to the topic of placing adjuncts between to and the verb in chapter V of S&W4e . He still calls the split innitive a violation, but magnanimously terms it harmless and scarcely perceptible in cases like I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow, the alternative being stiff, needlessly formal. But the split innitive is not a mark of informal style. What would be wrong with I cannot bring myself really to like the fellow is that it would wrongly suggest that really is modifying bring rather than like. Curmes examples make it quite clear that serious writing in formal style also contains split innitives. Strunk and White are both ignorant of the relevant facts. Strunk wrote too early to have the benet of Curmes literary scholarship. White does not have that excuse.

2.6

Noun used as verb

A LL cases of nouns being pressed into service as verbs are suspect, according to White (S&W4e , 54). One scarcely knows what to say. Except that of course the instances of nounto-verb conversion that prescriptivists object to are entirely arbitrary. They froth and fume about any talk of dialoguing, gifting, contacting, and perhaps scheduling, but they never seem to object to talk of booking a room, tabling a motion, or remaindering a book. The only honest way to give a general principle is that you should use as verbs those words that other people generally use as verbs. But theres not much zip or re to that piece of wisdom.

2.7

Participle for verbal noun

The section with this heading appears to originate in Strunk (1920). The supposed error is described, oddly, as substituting participle for verbal noun; but since no verb has distinct forms for what are traditionally called the present participle and the verbal noun or gerund, such a substitution would be impossible to detect. CGEL posits only one form: the gerund-participle. What is at stake is the case marking of the subject in clauses with a gerund-participial verb: Strunk insists that subjects of gerund-participial clauses must be genitive, and thus, almost unbelievably, he maintains that the familiar formula (11) is an error of grammar (Strunk 1920, p. 43): (11) Do you mind me asking a question? He gives Do you mind my asking a question? as the correction. He gives this as a second example of the same fault: (12) There was little prospect of the Senate acccepting even this compromise. Strunk admits that the construction with the plain or accusative subject is occasionally found, and has its defenders; But nonetheless, (12) has to do not with a prospect of the
The second edition of the White revision contains an acknowledgment that Eleanor Gould Packard assisted in its preparation. The error introduced here may have been hers rather than Whites.
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Senate, but with a prospect of accepting, so the construction is plainly illogical. (I confess that I cannot follow his logic here.) Strunk then cites two interesting examples where where the subject is rather long and it is clearly the genitive subject that seems unacceptable rather than the plain case. The rst is this one (Strunk 1920, p. 43; S&W4e , p. 56): (13) ? In the event of a reconsideration of the whole matters becoming necessary This would be much better phrased with the subject in the plain case (a reconsideration of the whole matter) rather than the genitive. But Strunks response to such cases is simply to bite the bullet: he sticks with his edict, and recommends recasting the entire sentence (using If it should become necessary to reconsider the whole matter), and White repeats all this. There is no recognition here of the fact that the genitive subject was the innovation, and that use of the genitive had been controversial throughout the 19th century (for an enlightening discussion with many relevant literary examples see Merriam-Webster 1994, 753755, or Merriam-Webster 2002, 598600). What Strunk asserts, and the White revision carries into the 21st century in S&W4e , is that clauses with non-genitive subjects and gerund-participial verbs are not grammatical in English. This is not helpful usage advice; it is simply an untruth. The fact is that for gerund-participial clauses, literate native speakers sometime use genitive and sometimes plain (or accusative) subjects. For example, the Merriam-Webster article notes that Lewis Carroll used both in hopes of [his being able to join me] and prevented [any of it being heard] on the same day (in correspondence, 11 March 1867). White kept the examples from (Strunk, 1920) in his 1959 revision (p. 44), and in the second edition (1972); but by 1979 he (or his editor) apparently lost faith, and found it impossible to continue pretending that Do you mind me asking? is ungrammatical; so the example (11) was quietly dropped, and the topic was introduced using just (12). White had also dropped a paragraph of Strunk (1920) that acknowledged, correctly, that the plain case seems particularly acceptable after the verb imagine (Strunk had cited I cannot imagine Lincoln refusing his assent), with a citation of Fowler and Fowler (1906) though again Strunk had been prepared to bite the bullet, offering the opinion that there was only a slight loss of vividness if the genitive was substituted, and that by sticking with the genitive case the writer will always be on the safe side. This is one place where the variation between editions is signicant. There was nothing in S1e , and Strunk (1920) showed signs of recognizing that the issue was debatable. The White revision in 1959 cut some of that recognition out, and the 1979 revision also took out an especially dubious example. The drift is away from honesty, and toward a clear determination to oppose plain or accusative subjects of gerund-participials no matter what the usage evidence might suggest and to tolerate as little debate as possible.

2.8

People

S1e insisted that The word people is not to be used with words of number, in place of persons. Strunk offers this reasoning: If of six people ve went away, how many people would be left? We are apparently being invited to say that there would be one people, and that is ungrammatical. Strunk appears to have lifted this pathetic argument (if it can be called an argument) without acknowledgment from a writer in The Critic in 1897, though objections to people

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as the plural for person goes back further, at least to 1866.9 People has been used in effect as a suppletive plural of person for hundreds of years, as even its detractors noted. The Strunkian proscription is madness; but it will perhaps not amaze the reader too much that White retained the madness in the revision, and it remains there in S&W4e (p. 56).

2.9

Shall and will

The claim that shall and will in effect show suppletive person agreement is a somewhat better known prescriptive chestnut. White tells (without attribution) the old joke about these modals: A swimmer in distress cries I shall drown; no one will save me! A suicide puts it the other way: I will drown; no one shall save me! . (Jan Freeman has tracked this back to 1833, and Ingrid Tieken tells me that it goes back further, to the 18th century.) White actually claims that although in relaxed speech this distinction is seldom made, nonetheless we are quite likely to drown when we want to survive and survive when we want to drown. Jocular, one assumes; but the trouble is that educated Americans take such prattle seriously, and come to mistrust or condemn their own natural usage. The fact is that shall is mostly gone from contemporary American usage. In WSJ the ratio of I will to I shall is over 14 to 1, and shant is just about extinct: there are just two occurrences of shant in WSJs 44 milion words, and both are in free-form guest columns by editor emeritus Vermont Royster (19141996), a man well into his seventies.

Vanity and idiosyncrasy

Whites vain assumption that his personal prejudices about individual words or constructions should be laws for everyone to live by is fairly extreme.10 He dislikes seeing degree adjuncts qualifying the word unique, so he just adds to the book a stipulation (not present in S1e or Strunk 1920) that it is a mistake. Whats unpleasant for him is an error for you, and there is no appeal. If necessary, he will bully you into agreement.

3.1

Hopefully as modal adjunct

The prize example of Whites vanity and bullying is his appalling paragraph on hopefully (S&W4e , p. 48). Strunk was long dead before the modal adjunct (or sentence adverb) use of hopefully started its upswing in frequency. Indeed, White missed mentioning it in 1959, because the increase in popularity did not begin until the 1960s (Merriam-Webster 2002, 393). But from the second (1972) edition on, the book includes this ailing, raving, undisciplined paragraph: Hopefully. This once-useful adverb meaning with hope has been distorted and is now widely used to mean I hope or it is to be hoped. Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say, Hopefully Ill leave on the noon plane is nonsense. Do you mean youll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope youll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you havent said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-oating capacity may be
The evidence is provided by Ben Zimmer and others in Who is this exalted parrot? on Language Log at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/myl/languagelog/archives/002488.html on 23 September 2005. 10 It is not unexcelled, though. The prize for idiosyncratic usage grouchery must surely go to the overopinionated dottiness of Ambrose Bierces Write It Right (see the eruditely but entertainingly annotated edition of it by Freeman 2009).
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pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of many others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense. White justies his furious hostility to the modal adjunct use in a bewildering variety of different ways. The word has been distorted and offends the ear aesthetic judgments; it is wrong (ungrammatical); it is silly (unintelligent); it is nonsense (illogical). But which? His example about the noon plane illustrates none of these things: there is no contradiction or incoherence, but at best only a possible ambiguity. (This is not a particularly plausible charge, because to get the manner adjunct reading you have to assume a manner adjunct has been fronted for some special discourse effect, and this is very rare. At the very worst, it is a case of temporary potential ambiguity.) And to raise topics like ambiguity and clarity is to switch from aesthetics and intelligence and logic to an entirely different topic, communicative efciency. But new charges follow: it is new (and everything new is bad?), free-oating (undisciplined?), and for some, pleasurable (hedonistic?). The word has been dulled, like a misused knife; it has been eroded, like a river bank. . . White wanders from metaphor to metaphor. And then he starts repeating himself. He returns to the allegation of ambiguity, adds the new charge of softness (if you use this word youre a sissy!), and nally wheels back once more to nonsense. He doesnt know where he is going. He cycles through a dozen different putative faults or sins, raving semi-repetitively like a drunk. Principles like Strunks Omit needless words and Whites own Do not overwrite are forgotten. It is quite astonishing that anyone concerned with good writing could admire Whites uncontrolled blithering about hopefully, and more so that readers should continue to value it today. For the issue disappeared from serious discussion a quarter of a century ago. In 1965 the popular hue and cry against the modal adjunct use had started (Follett 1966 voiced the denitive complaint, and probably inspired White); by 1975 the dispute was at its peak; and by 1985 it was basically over. Yet in The Elements of Style the forgotten dispute remains trapped forever like a y in amber.

3.2

Preposition stranding

Hopefully was not the only topic on which White issued wildly inaccurate off-the-wall advice. We get some more unexamined nonsense in his brief treatment of the old worry about whether prepositions can be separated from their objects, as in What were you thinking he does well. of ? or Whatever he puts his hand to This old chestnut of a grammatical topic, originating in an idiosyncratic grumble by John Dryden in 1672 and long forgotten in Britain, made no appearance in S1e . But White wanders into it oddly, in a section where you would never look for it: in a section entitled Avoid fancy words (S&W4e V.14, 7778). Starting with an injunction to avoid fancy Latinate words where Anglo-Saxon ones would do (toughness and plainness again), White drifts off into the topic of having a good ear for the distinction between fancy and plain (S&W4e , pp. 7778): The question of ear is vital. Only the writer whose ear is reliable is in a position to use bad grammar deliberately; this writer knows for sure when a colloquialism is better than formal phrasing and is able to sustain the work at a level of good taste. So cock your ear. Years ago, students were warned not to end a sentence with a preposition; time, of course, has softened that rigid decree. Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot 12

than anywhere else. A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool he murdered her with. This is preferable to A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool with which he murdered her. Why? Because it sounds more violent, more like murder. A matter of ear. An expert in writing is telling us that stranded prepositions sound like murder. When your lover murmurs Youre the only one that I want to tell my secrets to it sounds like murder, and you should brace yourself for the claw hammer.11 The advice White hands out here is not just atavistic; it is agrantly inaccurate. White cannot tell the slight informality of preposition stranding from risky dabbling in bad grammar that one would use only when depicting hideous violence. A man with a tin ear is advising students on the importance of ear.

Hypocrisy and mendacity

Perhaps the most obnoxious aspect of The Elements of Style and it is mostly injected by White is the hypocrisy. White berates others for sins that he privately practises, and even Strunk practised. At the very least, several passages are self-undercutting in that the edicts enunciated are clearly and visibly not obeyed by the enunciator. It is as if he felt that the rules do not apply to him. But sometimes it is worse than that, involving the concealment of highly relevant evidence. I offer four examples, the fourth being perhaps the worst.

4.1

Passive clauses

First, consider the section in the chapter headed Elementary Principles of Composition, which insists you must Use the active voice (S&W4e , 1819). This section derives from S1e . Strunk particularly deprecated the use of one passive dependent on another (as in He has been proved to have been seen entering the building. But note the structure of his comment on what is wrong with it: he says that the word properly related to the second passive is made the subject of the rst. His description is couched in the form of a passive reduced relative (properly related to the second passive) in the subject, and a passive main clause (is made the subject. . . ). Indeed, the very rst sentence of S1e , the opening sentence of the introductory chapter, has two passives: This book is intended for use in English courses in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature. What is going on when a work that makes free use of the passive construction, as all writers have done down the centuries, instructs undergraduate writers that they are supposed to avoid it? If the passive is wicked and improper, Strunk and White are hypocrites; if it is not, they are liars. There seems to be no other possibility. The attempt Strunk makes to convince students of the undesirability of passives is intellectually dishonest from the outset. He points out that (14a) is more direct and vigorous than is (14b). (14) a. b.
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I shall always remember my rst visit to Boston. ? My rst visit to Boston will always be remembered by me.

Notice that preposition fronting in such a case is impossible: if your lover murmurs *Youre the only one to that I want to tell my secrets, youre having an affair with a foreigner.

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But this is ridiculous. The latter example is so clearly unacceptable that in the heyday of confusing semantics and pragmatics with syntax a number of theorists12 took it (incorrectly) to be syntactically ill-formed, in virtue of a constraint forbidding the application of the passive transformation to at least some clauses with a rst-person subject. The correct statement about (14b) is not that it is syntactically barred but that the passive construction is associated with strong information-structure pressure to make the internalised complement (the by-phrase) express material newer to the discourse than the subject. A rst-person pronoun, denoting the utterer, cannot possibly be newer information than a trip to Boston that the utterance is reporting. As remarked in CGEL (p. 1444), the speaker and addressee count as discourse-old simply by virtue of their participation in the discourse, so Im going to hold a press conference is vastly more natural than ?? A press conference is going to be held by me. The effect is even stronger with a sentence like Strunks, which involves a statement about personal memory, where no one but the speaker could plausibly be the rememberer of the Boston visit. In sum, Strunk chooses an independently bizarre sentence which violates an information packaging constraint, and uses it illicitly to cast aspersions on all instances of the construction it represents. He could hardly have been unaware that he had read and written tens of thousands of passive clauses that were nothing like as unacceptable. His student White, of course, drank in the prejudice against the passive, and kept the absurd example word for word in the 1959 revision. It is there in S&W4e (p. 18). Perhaps he even believed that he had learned from Strunk to expunge the passive from his prose. But look at the evidence. In the rst paragraph of the the introduction to the revised edition, where White tells of how much he learned from Strunk at Cornell, he calls S1e a textbook required for the course (thats a passive clause used as an adjunct in noun phrase structure). The book was known on the campus as the little book, he tells us (thats another passive); It had been privately printed by the author (thats yet another). The paragraph is stuffed with passives. Was this done knowingly? Probably not. It is not fully clear that Strunk had a good grasp of exactly what was passive and what was active. After his dishonest introduction to passives he has some accurate remarks about how sometimes passives are appropriate, but then he returns to his view that The habitual use of the active voice . . . makes for forcible writing, and remarks (using a passive once again): Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is, or could be heard. He cites these four examples as suitable cases for correction: (15) a. b. c. d. There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground. The sound of the falls could still be heard. The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired. It was not long before he was very sorry that he had said what he had.

Here only the second is a passive. The rst, (15a), is an existential construction with an intransitive (lying) in a modier clause. The third, (15c), has a copular main clause that is not a passive, with an active verb (left) in the clause inside the subject NP and a departicipial adjective (impaired) as complement of the active verb become in the second content clause. (Become does not form passives the way be does: *A letter became written by the bank is not grammatical.) And (15d) has two occurrences of the copula (was), two preterite-tense occurrences of the perfect auxiliary had, and one active transitive verb, said.
Among them, John Robert Ross, Paul M. Postal, John Grinder, Frederick J. Newmeyer, and Terence Moore.
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So it may be that Strunk was clueless about identifying passives. The alternative is that he may have been intending to change the topic from using the active voice to something much broader, like writing without copular or inchoative clauses. When we look at his corrections (Dead leaves covered the ground; The sound of the falls still reached our ears; Failing health compelled him to leave college; He soon repented his words) we see that they all have transitive verbs in active clauses. The plot thickens when we turn to later editions. In Strunk (1920) the second example has been changed to (16a), and the correction is (16b): (16) a. b. The sound of a guitar somewhere in the house could be heard. Somewhere in the house a guitar hummed sleepily.

And in the 1959 revision by White, the same example has been replaced again, this time by the following pair: (17) a. b. At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard. The cocks crow came with dawn.

The trouble is, while S1e recommended substituting a transitive in the active voice and gave a transitive (reached), and Strunk (1920) used the phrase substituting a verb in the active voice, and gave a verb that was not passive (hummed), White reverts to substituting a transitive in the active voice but gives a verb that is not transitive (came). Thus in Whites hands, the number of examples in the block illustrating replacement of a passive by a nonpassive goes down to zero. It is easy to see why Americans who have had S&W4e as their main or only guide to grammar and style end up decrying passives without being able to identify them. And they certainly do.13 The commonest error is to imagine that all passive means in grammar is low degree of overtly expressed agency or responsibility, so that clauses like A bomb exploded or The case took on racial overtones are misdiagnosed as passives.14 I am convinced that the mixture of dishonesty, obscurity, incompetence, and hypocrisy in S&W4e has contributed to the frequency of such blunders. At least three different people have told me they noticed writing instructors (in one case the director of a writing program) marking prose as incorrect for containing passives simply on grounds that the copular verb be was present. One provided me with a scan of an actual paper where a teaching assistant had marked passive voice ten times, and the diagnosis was wrong in seven of the ten. Circling all forms of the copula in red and writing dont use passive in the margin is easy work. And those who do it can be condent that they will not be called on it: American undergraduate students do not know enough about grammar to point out the cases where the passive accusation was false. Elements only amplies their confusion.

4.2

Adjacency and relatedness

As a second example, section III.16 of S1e (it is II.20 of S&W4e ), headed Keep related words together. The version in S1e is perhaps the most extraordinary. Strunk opens the section thus:
13 At http://ling.ed.ac.uk/gpullum/grammar/passives.html there is a long list of Language Log posts about various aspects of the passive, many of them giving examples of people who objected to the use of the passive voice where there had been no such use. 14 See http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/myl/languagelog/archives/000236.html and http://itre.cis.upenn. edu/myl/languagelog/archives/000991.html for these examples.

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The position of the words in a sentence is the principal means of showing their relationship. The writer must therefore, so far as possible, bring together the words, and groups of words, that are related in thought, and keep apart those which are not so related. 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. Strunk is saying that the subject and the lexical (principal) verb should be adjacent: they should not be separated by anything that could be preposed. And he says it with a subject and lexical verb separated not only by the modal verb should, the negator not, and the copula (be yes, he has used a passive) but also a parenthetically interpolated phrase (as a rule) that could have been preposed. And his previous sentence had not just a modal (must) but also an adjunct (therefore) and a supplement (so far as possible) separating its subject (the writer) from its lexical verb (bring). He also has a supplemental and-coordinate (and groups of words) separating a head noun from the relative clause modifying it. Heidi Harley noted on Language Log15 that the section has only 11 sentences (excluding the examples), and three of them (27%) directly violate the rule that the section afrms. Whites revision expands and rewrites the section somewhat, but not in a way that eliminates the self-refuting character of the prose. He adds new examples, suggesting that Toni Morrison, in Beloved, writes about. . . needs to be changed to In Beloved, Toni Morrison writes about. . . (S&W4e , p. 29); and about these he says: Interposing a phrase or clause, as in the lefthand examples above, interrupts the ow of the main clause. This interruption, however, is not usually bothersome. . . Both of these sentences have supplements between subject and verb phrase, so their form violates the rule that is being presented. Neither Strunk nor White seems to think the rule actually means anything at all for them. One can only speculate about whether they failed to notice, or noticed but thought theyd get away with it, or noticed but simply didnt care.

4.3

Adjectives and adverbs

As a third case of hypocrisy, consider 4 of Whites chapter V, An approach to style, in the revised version of the book. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs, it says rmly (71). (Redundantly, White says in section V.8, p. 73, that we should Avoid the use of qualiers many of these, like rather and very and pretty, being adverbs.) And then in the very next sentence after he instructs us to use only nouns and verbs (a sentence which, incidentally, has a passive negative main clause, contrary to II.14, Use the active voice, and II.15, Put statements in positive form), White uses the adjective coordination weak or inaccurate and the adjective tight. The sentence after that uses the adjective indispensable (in relation to adjectives, surprisingly enough, since White acknowledges that adjectives and adverbs are indispensable parts of speech). The sentence after that begins with an adverb. And so it goes on. You can see from Whites prose in the very section in question that the claim of his section heading is bunk.
Keep related words, as a rule, together on Language Log at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p= 4 on 8 April 2008.
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Looking elsewhere, in Whites introduction to the book the sixth word is an attributive adjective and there is another in the fourth line. The rst two chapters of the main part of the book both have titles that begin with an attributive adjective. And White added a section in chapter II (16) headed Use denite, specic, concrete language three attributive adjectives in ve words. S1e never advised students to restrict themselves to nouns and verbs. And White could not possibly have thought that Strunk would have accepted such advice, since Strunk puts an adjective in the rst line of the text of his introductory chapter.16 How on earth can a book be taken seriously in its injunctions when it tells the reader to write without adjectives and adverbs but says so in prose that is replete with them? The injunction is irredeemably, inexcusably wrong it states a precept that is never followed and is impossible to follow. But it has encouraged the continuation of a prejudice against adjectives and adverbs on the part of English teachers who cannot have seriously thought about what they are saying. As Ben Yagoda (2004) pointed out, there are earlier antecedents: Voltaire (allegedly) saying that the adjective is the enemy of the noun; Mark Twain recommending when you catch an adjective, kill it (the title of Yagodas amusing and erudite book on the parts of speech); William Zinsser claiming (in 1976 late enough that he could be following White): Most adjectives are . . . unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who dont stop to think that the concept is already in the noun. Zinssers claim is empirical, and easy to test. He is saying that if you read through a piece of prose looking for the sequence adjective + noun, in most cases there will usually be a noun that expresses the concept thus denoted. Try it, on any text. The rst ve adjective + noun sequences in Alices Adventures in Wonderland are hot day, white rabbit, pink eyes, large rabbit-hole, and deep well. Not one of them has a noun that could express the same concept. Zinssers statement is a foolish falsehood (doubtless completely unchecked). People seem to have a naive trust in such anti-adjectival propaganda. Alistair Cooke, describing the writing process he developed during his fty years of writing his Letter From America essays for BBC radio, said that after drafting a piece he would beat the hell out of it, getting rid of all the adverbs, all the adjectives, all the hackneyed words. Did he really think his 2,869 scripts contained no adjectives or adverbs? In a minute of work at the BBCs ofcial Letter from America site.17 it can be conrmed that it is not so. In his last piece, for example, the 6th and 7th words were adjectives; the 10th and 12th were adverbs; the 15th and 20th and 24th were further adjectives; and so on. Whatever the source of Cookes belief about getting rid of adjectival and adverbial modication, he was clearly deluded. And Elements (as modied by S&W4e ) encourages such delusions.

4.4

Restrictive relative which

My fourth example of hypocrisy is perhaps the worst. It relates to the prohibition of which introducing the kind of relative clause that is traditionally termed restrictive or dening (CGEL refers to them as integrated relatives). The edict delivered in S&W4e is now perhaps the most famous of all American copy-editor bugaboos: That is the dening, or restrictive, pronoun, which the nondening, or nonrestrictive. But none of this is right. The word that is not a relative pronoun at all; notice that preposition fronting with it is impossible:
I discuss this further in Those who take the adjectives from the table on Language Log at http://itre.cis. upenn.edu/myl/languagelog/archives/000469.html (18 February 2004). 17 See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/letter from america/default.stm for the home page.
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(18) a. b.

the recession to which I attribute the fall of the government *the recession to that I attribute the fall of the government

White is in any case forced to undercut himself immediately by admitting that which is used in restrictive relatives in the King James version of the Bible (he quotes Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass). Nonetheless, he insists that Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the dening whiches [sic], and by so doing improve their work. Why would this be regarded as improvement, rather than pointless tampering? The ctive rule that White alludes to emerged during the 19th century, and is expounded in full by H. W. and F. G. Fowler in The Kings English (1906). In the relevant passage (pp. 8893) they admit that they are proposing the rule as a suggested reform: it is not drawn from practice. They also acknowledge that there would have to be numerous complicated exceptions. In fact they go so far as to concede that It may seem to the reader that a rule with so many exceptions to it is not worth observing. The sole ground offered for advancing the rule is that if only people would assent to it, various mishandlings of relative clauses would be less common than they are. But this means nothing: the Fowlers clearly regard use of which in restrictive relatives as mishandlings, so the prospect of having people obey their rule is not being properly distinguished from the supposed motivation for advocating it. The trained-pigeon copy-editing that grew out of the Fowlers ctive rule seems to presuppose the irrelevance or impossibility of any semantic factor might distinguish that and which. I have done no signicant investigation of this, but I think it is at least possible that expert users of English tend to favour which when introducing new discourse elements, and (a related matter) when modifying an indenite NP, while preferring that when referring to discourse-old elements and modifying denite NPs. For example, in Dracula (1897) the sequence a thing which occurs twice, but the thing which never occurs at all. Yet with that it is the other way round: a thing that never occurs, while the thing that does occur. This could be accidental, or it could indicate that Bram Stoker preferred which for relative clauses modifying indenite NPs and that for modifying denite NPs. I do not aim here to conrm that. I just want to point out that if it is true that there is a subtle semantic or discourse-structure distinction between that and which, then Strunk and White are recommending its erosion and loss exactly the kind of change that prescriptivists normally decry. Strunk himself never mentioned the Fowlers rule in S1e . White added the section on this topic. And he did something else as well. Jan Freeman of the Boston Sunday Globe18 discovered that White rewrote Strunks prose to eliminate every telltale case of restrictive relative which. There were quite a few. For example, Strunk wrote if the favor which you have requested is granted in the paragraph immediately before where White inserted the section on the which prohibition. White rewrote the sentence completely. Strunk wrote keep apart those which are not related (in the section Keep related words together), and White changed it to keep apart those that are not related. And so on. White altered the text of the book he was revising to avoid revealing that his old mentor followed no rule forbidding restrictive which. This looks like deliberate concealment of evidence. It is possible, though, that White was simply not aware that his own writing, too, ignores the alleged rule. When writing his own
See her column at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/theword/2008/09/return of the l.html (6 September 2008).
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novels, such as Charlottes Web and Stuart Little, White used restrictive which whenever it seemed right. Stuart Little has an apparent restrictive which on its rst page.19 In sum, White is peddling a prohibition that originates in a quixotic 19th-century recommendation for reform that failed; he shows no sign of respecting it in his own writing, and Strunk did not respect it; but to make it look more plausible he silently alters Strunks original text. I see no way to regard this as anything but straightforwardly dishonest.

Conclusion

There is more to be said against The Elements of Style. Much more. Given more space, for example, I would discuss the fascinating recent essay in which Catherine Prendergast (2009) muses on the parallels between Whites values and those of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. But I hope I have done enough here to begin to substantiate some of my charges against Elements, and to give some sense of why I regard it as deleterious to grammar education in America. I do not think this issue is a trivial one. I believe The Elements of Style does real and permanent harm. It certainly wastes precious resources like time for teachers, students, and copy editors, and money for the publishers who pay copy editors. And it damages the selfesteem of students and college graduates, helping to convince them, falsely, that they have an imperfect grasp of their native tongue, and misdiagnosing genuine faults in writing. I am no defender of the species that White once scornfully called the modern liberal of the English Department, the anything-goes fellow (Guth 2006, 416). I have no time for sloppy or ungrammatical writing. But I object to the time that is wasted in trying to teach students falsehoods about English grammar. And I think this is a linguistic issue of unusually large practical importance. We linguists should not be shy about speaking out and condemning this opinionated, inuential, error-stuffed, time-wasting, unkillable zombie of a book for all the harm it has done.

References
Curme, George O. 1914. Origin and force of the split-innitive. Modern Language Notes 29(2):4145. Curme, George O. 1930. Syntax. Boston: D. C. Heath. Volume III of A Grammar of the English Language. Follett, Wilson. 1966. Modern American Usage: A Guide. New York: Hill & Wang. Fowler, H. W. and F. G. Fowler. 1906. The Kings English. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Freeman, Jan. 2009. Ambrose Bierces Write It Right: The Celebrated Cynics Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers. New York: Walker. Garvey, Mark. 2009. Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & Whites The Elements of Style. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster. Guth, Dorothy Lobrano, ed. 2006. Letters of E. B. White. New York: Harper.
I noted this in Dont put up with usage abuse on Language Log at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/myl/ languagelog/archives/001803.html (15 January 2005).
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Hoffman, Gary and Glynis Hoffman. 1997. Adios, Strunk and White. Huntington Beach, CA: Verve Press. Merriam-Webster. 1994. Merriam-Websters Dictionary of English Usage. Springeld, CT: Merriam-Webster. Edited by E. Ward Gilman. Merriam-Webster. 2002. Merriam-Websters Concise Dictionary of English Usage. Springeld, CT: Merriam-Webster. Edited by E. Ward Gilman. Plotnik, Arthur. 2006. Spunk and Bite. New York: Random House. Prendergast, Catherine. 2009. The ghting style: Reading the Unabombers Strunk and White. College English 72(1):1028. Strunk, William. 1920. The Elements of Style. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe. First commercially published edition. Strunk, William and E. B. White. 2000. The Elements of Style. New York: Allyn and Bacon, 4th ed. Strunk, Jr., William. 1918. The Elements of Style. Privately printed in Geneva, NY, at the Press of W. F. Humphrey. Quotations are from the online version of the text (http: //www.bartleby.com/141). Yagoda, Ben. 2004. The adjective so ludic, so minatory, so twee. The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 20. Zinsser, William K. 1976. On Writing Well. New York: Harper and Row.

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