Fark off

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My Chronicle of Higher Education article was picked up by Arts & Letters Daily and from there picked up by fark.com. Now, I was aware that the quality of comments at Fark could be very low; but I didn't realize it could be THAT low. I've never seen anything like it, despite occasional ill-advised visits to places on the web where the ragged people go. As conversations go, it's like walking past a dog pound. The policy at Fark seems to be bark first, look at the article maybe later. Responding to such stuff is probably a waste of time. (One must never forget the reason why it is a bad idea to wrestle with a pig: you both get filthy, but the pig enjoys it.) So just very briefly, let me supply these short answers:

  • To the guy who asked "why is a Scot writing invectives about an American style guide? That's like having a French writer comment on a style guide from French Canada": I've been an American citizen longer than you've been alive, and I have 25 years' experience of teaching about language at the University of California.
  • To the various people who assert that I am a disappointed style-guide author plugging a rival text ("the article's author has his own competing book to flog"): I haven't written anything that could plausibly be recommended to a freshman taking English composition. When people ask me for recommendations, I tell them to look at the very sensible and intelligent book Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams.
  • To the guy who said "my penis could type a better article": your girlfriend told me she doesn't think so.

Finally, a couple of people just couldn't stomach the following admittedly rather complex sentence of mine:

William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately.

I did overestimate the reading age of Fark commenters. And naturally they assume that my piece is an exemplar of style, not a set of claims about why Americans are confused about grammar. So to train me in Strunkian style, we're going to make me say that again using only simple active clauses with no needless words:

Strunk was a professor. Cornell employed Strunk. Strunk taught English. A century has passed. Strunk published Elements. Strunk paid the bill. The edition number was 1. Cornell admitted E. B. White. White took English. The year was 1919. White bought Elements. Many years passed. White wrote Charlotte's Web. People admired White.

I hope that clears up the matter of what I meant with all my relative clauses and stuff. Never again will I exceed a sentence length of 5 words when (or rather if) writing for Fark readers. But for now, I'm switching Fark off.

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