Monday, October 1, 2012

An Elements error

Nobody’s perfect. In his neverending battle against The Elements of Style, Geoffrey Pullum has overlooked one genuine mistake in the book, or at least in the book’s 1959 edition. E. B. White writes about it in a July 13, 1962 letter to the book’s editor, Jack Case:

You chose a real whiz (“Whizzer White,” they call me) when you picked me for your grammarian. A man named Betz, in Riverside, Connecticut, has turned up the best boo boo yet. Look on P. 52, first paragraph. “There is no . . .”

There is no inflexible rules, all righty!

Someday I shall make a trip to the attic, examine the original manuscript, and find out whether I really wrote that. Meantime, I plan to burn my typewriter and scatter the ashes over Lower Fifth Avenue.

Letters of E. B. White, ed. Dorothy Lobrano Guth (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).
Here is the problem sentence:

Changing is to are would not help here: the only way out is to recast the sentence. From the second edition (1972):

I snagged a hardcover copy of the second edition of The Elements of Style for a modest price in a used-book store this past weekend. The cover alone was worth it.

Related reading
E. B. White on another Elements error
All Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Matt Thomas said...

Glad to see you’re still on Pullum’s case, even when it means nitpicking White.

Michael Leddy said...

I was surprised to see the letter about the mistake, and I couldn’t resist bringing Pullum into it.