Pullum on Talk of the Nation

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Geoff Pullum was on the NPR radio program Talk of the Nation yesterday, in a segment entitled "A Half-Century of Stupid Grammar Advice".

For those who want more, lists of past LL posts mentioning Strunk can be found here and here.


  1. Bob Lieblich said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    This is in response to Arnold Zwicky's quotation of a letter from Cal Book (as we called it), announcing heavy sales of the new S&W. I arrived at Berkeley within a day or two of August 20, 1959, as a junior-year transfer and an English major. S&W played no role in my studies there, and I have no recollection even of knowing about it at the time. Maybe some engineering prof decided his students needed the book.

    In case it matters, I'm with Geoff Pullum. The book did me little good, if any, once I discovered it, and it has had a negative effect on the writing of many of the lawyers I work with. The worst writer of all the lawyers I have met in forty years of pracice swore by S&W. I prefer to swear AT it.

  2. Noel Bush said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:16 am

    Love the interview! If you're on Facebook, please join the new group for fans of Geoffrey Pullum:


  3. Dan T. said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 11:20 am

    I remember having a copy of S&W at one point, which had come bundled in a box set with paperback versions of some other writing-related reference works such as a dictionary and a thesaurus; I'm not sure what became of it, but I don't seem to have it any more. (Lots of my stuff got lost in a move years ago.) It left no big impression on me, either positive or negative.

  4. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    From the interview with Barbara Wallraff

    "There's a certain zen quality to some of them, like 'Be clear'. There's a lot being conveyed there in two words, and exactly how to do it people will spend whole other books explaining."

    This is intended as praise, but, to me, it illustrates one of the most damning things about the book: where it isn't simply erroneous or misguided, all it offers is empty platitude, advice about as useful as an admonishment to "Write well', without actually providing any helpful guidance as to how to achieve this.

  5. John D said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

    @Noel, thanks for the group—I just joined :-)

    I thought the interview was great—Prof. Pullum laid out his case very nicely, carefully distinguishing between S&W's style advice (generally harmless) and their misinformed grammatical ideas. I was afraid that some nutbag would call in and start harassing him, but it doesn't seem to have happened this time.

    Re the violent reactions via email, seems like this is just another instance of Word Rage?

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