The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style


Photo illustration by Studio 360.

In 1959, The New York Times praised “The Elements of Style” as a “splendid trophy for all who are interested in reading and writing.” According to The Guardian, the slim writing guide by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is one of the 25 best nonfiction books of all time.

John McWhorter, on the other hand, disagrees. He's the host of the Slate podcast “Lexicon Valley” and teaches linguistics, philosophy and music at Columbia.

He explains why Strunk and White's many rules — such as avoiding the passive voice, qualifiers and the word “hopefully” — are completely arbitrary and do little but make “good people insecure about their speech and their writing.” 

“Strunk and White does not have the authority of, say, the table of the elements or ‘Gray's Anatomy,’” McWhorter says. “It's just a couple of guys.” 

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