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Sometimes Strunk and White are right

Here is Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, quoted (in the Metro newspaper, 29 June 2010), talking about an advertisement her organization has published: The advert has been designed to shake out ingrained prejudices many Scots have towards women who have been raped. Even though people believe they wouldn't judge a rape victim by what […]

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Sotomayor loves Strunk and White

People have begun to ask why Language Log hasn't yet commented on the remarks of Sonia Sotomayor about the sterling value of (you guessed it) Strunk & White. One recent commenter (here) actually seems to imply that we have jumped all over Charles Krauthammer solely because he is conservative, and shielded Sotomayor from criticism because […]

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The House of No Elements of Style

A few days ago, Geoff Pullum posted a meditation on the role of The Elements of Style in befuddling Americans about the nature of the passive voice ("Drinking the Strunkian Kool-Aid: victims of page 18", 6/6/2009). His point of departure was a passage illustrating the confusion, taken from a 2007 article by Ada Brunstein ("The […]

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Drinking the Strunkian Kool-Aid: victims of page 18

"My toothbrush is one of four standing upright in a cup on the bathroom sink," wrote Ada Brunstein in ‘The House of No Personal Pronouns’, a 2007 piece in the New York Times Fashion & Style section. "These toothbrushes belong to me, my boyfriend, his wife and her lover." Brunstein often stays at the house […]

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Room For Debate on Strunk and White

When The New York Times asked me to contribute to the discussion of The Elements of Style on their "Room for Debate" blog, I figured they would dredge up a bunch of aged worthies of the New York literati who would pother on about the virtues of the little book, and I would be alone […]

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The Land of the Free in the grip of The Elements of Style

In the April 17th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Geoff Pullum meditates on Strunk & White ("50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice"): April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative […]

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The possessive Jesus of composition

Let me explain, very informally, what a predictive text imitator is. It is a computer program that takes as input a passage of training text and produces as output a new text that is composed quasi-randomly except that it matches the training text with regard to the frequencies of word or character sequences up to […]

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Which-hunting — and relative decline?

In "A quantitative history of which-hunting", I reproduced a plot due to (an anonymous colleague of) Jonathan Owen, showing that texts from the last half of the 20th century saw a decrease in the relative frequency of NOUN which VERB, and an increase in the relative frequency of NOUN that VERB. Jonathan took this to indicate the […]

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Bad advice on being a good writer

Part 2 of the Wikihow listicle "Be a Good Writer" is about learning vital skills, and item 3 of part 2 says you should "Learn the rules of grammar". Where should you turn to find out what they are? The article (as accessed on March 2, 2015) says: If you have a question about grammar, […]

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Reddit blewit

Reddit, for those few who might not know, is a popular bulletin-board site for posting and discussing links and texts. A voting system determines the order and position of entries. The site is divided into "subreddits" devoted to paticular topics, of which there are now tens of thousands. One of these countless subreddits is /r/grammar. Here "grammar", as […]

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A sad case

A few days ago, Ben Goldacre, or someone pretending to be him on twitter, tweeted dear everyone, when i read your passive sentence constructions i sort of have to convert them into active ones in my head because i'm thick. As Geoff Pullum recently observed I despair when I see this kind of drivel. What […]

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Important editorial advice

The most recent xkcd offers some sound editorial guidance:

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Cross examination

Here's how not to place a temporal modifier. See if you readily understand this sentence (from the UK's Daily Mirror) on first reading: [H]e callously instructed his lawyers to add to her family's pain by implying the 13-year-old ran away because she was unhappy at home during days of cross examination. So this poor 13-year-old […]

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