Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Elements of Style

Strunk and White's legendary "Elements of Style" was first published in 1959, and in the intervening decades, this little book on language and its proper usage has been force-fed to countless high school English students, who have read it zealously, dog-eared key pages, showered it in graphite love or else completely disregarded and forgotten it, usually at their own risk. Beyond its sage advice on matters of style, it is filled with the Solomonic rules and injunctions--"Make every word tell"; "Use the active voice"; "Be obscure clearly"--that have served as a lifeboat to both professional and amateur writers adrift on the perilous seas of split infinitives, dangling participles and weak or flabby prose.

But while "The Elements of Style" has never lacked fans or dutiful adherents, appreciation for this slim volume takes a turn toward the whimsical and even surreal this week, as the Penguin Press publishes the first illustrated edition, featuring artwork by Maira Kalman, and the young composer Nico Muhly offers a finely wrought "Elements of Style" song cycle, to be given its premiere tonight at 8 in a highly unusual, if oddly appropriate, concert setting: the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library.
Force-fed to students who have read it zealously and dog-eared its pages? Block that mixed, mixed metaphor!

LINK: "'Style' Gets New Elements"

[To read the New York Times online, use mediajunkie as your name and password, or visit]

comments: 3

Lee said...

Just checking something about Strunk, but now wondering what's mixed here: 'force-fed' and 'dog-eared'? If that's what you mean, I'm not sure I'd even count these as metaphors any longer. Please explain.

Michael Leddy said...

That passage seems overwritten to me -- you can't dog-ear pages after you've been forced to eat them. And forced feeding -- against one's will -- doesn't really go with zealous reading.

Lee said...

Thanks ... though I'm not sure I agree with you.