The Elements of Style: "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice"


Originally published at:



Talk about taking a book out of its time and place! Do we also excoriate landmark programming books from the 80’s now that we have a newer/different/timely understanding of the medium?

Elements of Style is a treasure. It is the worn out old teddy bear with one eye and a missing ear that is loved for who she was and the comfort she provided rather than her polish and sparkle.

Also, you kids get off my lawn.

Obligatory and perennially misused meme:


I love Elements of Style and I say, “Fuck Geoffrey K. Pullum,” of whom no one has heard.


Well, Geoffrey K. Pullum can’t have read many articles from postmodern academia.


We’re supposed to believe some tosser from Edinburgh over Messrs. Strunk and White? Sounds to me like he’s just envious.



Hoo boy, here we go again, expecting experts who write for each other to write as if they’re instead writing for laypeople.

Maybe this thread on writing can, for once, avoid this lazy form of antintellectualism?


So this Panda Bear goes into a restaurant… Stop me if you’ve heard this one…



But I’m not going to hold my breath… :frowning:


No YOUR stupid!


Wow, we got four comments in before the inevitable, off-topic and pointless derail began. Now how can we make this about women’s clothing? /s

Jibbers Fucking Crabst!


“…(Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn’t.) Many are useless, like ‘Omit needless words.’ (The students who know which words are needless don’t need the instruction.)…”

Like so many books of instruction, they serve to be reminders of things which we already know; therein lays their usefulness. When we initially write something down, we seldom realize that we are being more verbose, or complex, than necessary. The sort of people who don’t need these reminders, don’t read this sort of book.




And that is why the usage examples cited in the article are contemporaneous.

Even if they weren’t wrong when written, it would still be problematic the way they’re invoked today. People at least have the sense not to treat programming books from the 80’s as authoritative.


“Be Clear” and “Omit needless words” are great advice. A book can’t tell you how to right clearly or what words are necessary (although it can give good an bad examples of both), but it can remind you to look at your writing and ask “can this be more clear” and “are these words needed”.


Yes, I think this is the point.
Language moves on and there was never a time in the past when it was “correct”.

I came across an interesting [well I thought so] case only today.

It’s pretty clear that in the distant past the ancestor of modern Western languages used the genitive for numbers, e.g. a pair of books, une paire de livres. In English we use the genitive for a pair (always say a pair of books), it’s optional for both (both books, both of the books) and we’ve dropped it for two (two books.)
In Russian the genitive is used in all forms, in French it’s used for paire and not at all for both or two. For half English uses both forms (half an hour, half of an orange). French doesn’t use it for demi(e).
It’s clear that this is a linguistic form that evolves at different rates in different languages, so at what point of time should a grammarian have frozen it?


I see you’ve never met any of the “C is the one true language, as #defined in K&R’s holy tome” folks.


No, just Lisp.


No I’m don’t!