Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the tag “Elements of Style”

Removing Grammar from My Life

I’m downsizing my grammar book collection, or at least trying to.  Tough job. I have so many favorites. How can I heartlessly toss these treasures in a box for a yard sale? No. Some simply cannot go.

Last night I picked up Essays of E. B. WhiteEssays by E.B.White (Harper Perennial, 1977 edition. Original copyright 1934). White is known for Charlotte’s Web, a book about a pig, a spider, and a young girl–a favorite with children everywhere. White is also known for his writings in the New Yorker and Harper’s magazine.

In one essay, White describes his own attempts to discard some of the accumulated miscellany gathered in his lifetime.  But one book, he decides, he can’t possibly disown is The Elements of Style,  the much favored, much challenged book Strunk and Whiteby William Strunk, Jr.

In 1919, E.B. White took an English class at Cornell University with Strunk as the teacher. Elements of Style was on the required reading list.

Years later, (1957) E.B. White was asked to revise of The Elements, but after time spent working on it, he decided that “I discovered that for all my fine talk, I was no match for the parts of speech…[and] I felt uneasy at posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, always with difficulty and seldom with any exact notion of what is taking place under the hood.”

Those reservations notwithstanding, White did revise Strunk’s original work. And, of course, that work has been revised again and again and is still a best seller on Amazon.

Downsizing my grammar book collection forces me to pick up old favorites and riffle through their pages and even smell a bit of their mustiness. With a sigh, Essays and Elements both go into a box to be donated to the library for its book sale. If I get nostalgic for these oldies, I will visit them on Amazon. I am sure they will be there for years to come.

Janice Hall Heck is coauthor of  Triumph Over Terror, a book writtencropped-final-front-cover-triumph-over-terror-foreword-white-2.jpg with Bob Ossler Chaplain.  Look for more information at http://www.bobosslerchaplain.com and http://www.triumphoverterror.com

 bookfest finalist

Removing Grammar from My Life

I’m downsizing my grammar book collection, or at least trying to.  Tough job. I have so many favorites. How can I heartlessly toss these treasures in a box for a yard sale? No. Some simply cannot go.

Last night I picked up Essays of E. B. WhiteEssays by E.B.White (Harper Perennial, 1977 edition. Original copyright 1934). White is known for Charlotte’s Web, a book about a pig, a spider, and a young girl–a favorite with children everywhere. White is also known for his writings in the New Yorker and Harper’s magazine.

In one essay, White describes his own attempts to discard some of the accumulated miscellany gathered in his lifetime.  But one book, he decides, he can’t possibly disown is The Elements of Style,  the much favored, much challenged book Strunk and Whiteby William Strunk, Jr.

In 1919, E.B. White took an English class at Cornell University with Strunk as the teacher. Elements of Style was on the required reading list.

Years later, (1957) E.B. White was asked to revise of The Elements, but after time spent working on it, he decided that “I discovered that for all my fine talk, I was no match for the parts of speech…[and] I felt uneasy at posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, always with difficulty and seldom with any exact notion of what is taking place under the hood.”

Those reservations notwithstanding, White did revise Strunk’s original work. And, of course, that work has been revised again and again and is still a best seller on Amazon.

Downsizing my grammar book collection forces me to pick up old favorites and riffle through their pages and even smell a bit of their mustiness. With a sigh, Essays and Elements both go into a box to be donated to the library for its book sale. If I get nostalgic for these oldies, I will visit them on Amazon. I am sure they will be there for years to come.

Janice Hall Heck is coauthor of  Triumph Over Terror, a book writtencropped-final-front-cover-triumph-over-terror-foreword-white-2.jpg with Bob Ossler Chaplain.  Look for more information at http://www.bobosslerchaplain.com and http://www.triumphoverterror.com

U is for Use, Usage, Utilize, and other Useful and Utilitarian Units

a-to-z-letters-2013What with all the rules about grammar, usage, and style, it’s a wonder anyone can get anything down on paper. Fortunately, native-born English speakers have internalized the rules and can speak and write from intuitive knowledge of how words work together in sentences. Any time we have a question about correctness, we can just pull our our handy reference manuals or go online to find the information we need. Or better yet, we can just let our editors fix the glitches in our writing.

What? You don’t have an editor?

Well, I don’t either, but my grammar-picky husband steps in and whacks at my writing. Sometimes he’s even right.

Grammar Reference Books and Textbooks

Good writers do use grammar reference books, and proofreaders and editors keep a large stock of them on hand. My own rather extensive collection starts with one first published in 1926. Here’s its classic opening sentence:

The Doorway to English is an outgrowth of a need of the classroom teacher of English who has been struggling long to achieve results in quality of speech from textbooks instead of making technique contribute to the quality of better speech. Almost any teacher of English can readily distribute the technique in orderly fashion through the respective grades, but few teachers are capable of allotting through a definite period of instruction the expanding qualities of good speech. L. Rader and P. Deffendall, The Doorway to English, Fifth Book, 1926.

What? Strunk and White, authors of The Elements of Style, would definitely not give this textbook writer an A for clarity.

Of course, some reference manuals vary in their pronouncements and create long-standing, hard-core devotees and crusaders, maybe even Grammar Police and Grammar Nazis.

One good example is the controversy over the serial comma, or the Oxford comma as the Brits call it. Do you use a comma after the second word in a series before the and?  Journalists frown on the use of the serial comma; academic writers adore it. Chicago Manual of Styles says yes, use it. APA says no, don’t use it. What’s a writer to do? Most writers follow what they were taught in junior high and high school, then look for evidence and authorities to support that position.

Usage and Style

Grammar and usage are different. Grammar: how words should be used in sentences. Usage: how words are used in sentences.

It’s Prescriptivist Grammar (this is the way it should be) versus Descriptivist Grammar (this is the way it is.)

Style is how an individual author puts together his or her knowledge of grammar and usage in writing.

A college professor, for example, would use a more formal, politically correct style in presenting his final report to the college president on, “The  Liberalization of the Humanities Department through the Utilization of Descriptivism in Chauvinistic Literature.”

The teenager writing on Internet uses a more informal style: mysterious acronyms that confound mature readers; pop idioms and slang; and improper spelling of there, they’re, and their, and your and you’re.

Here’s an example of a style suggestion from Strunk and White.

Avoid fancy words.

Although Strunk and White’s book does have it gallery of critics, it does offer helpful advice to developing writers. Their advice ranges from elementary rules of usage to the more hard-to-pinpoint style.

Why use a complex word when a simpler word will do? That college professor would do well to tone down his writing. The teenager will hopefully use a bit more formality in his academic writing.

The Last Meowcat editor

Hey, humans, why worry about all of this. We cats have our own grammar. The fuss that you make about these sticky details puts me to sleep. Get a life!   Meow for now.   =<^;^>=

And My Cat pic

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