Wednesday, August 10, 2011

in search of style...

so, this may be completely obvious, but i have absolutely no writing training.

coming from the technical/science/whatever-economics-is end of the academic spectrum, writing instruction is not emphasized. at all. once you've completed the onerous requirements of writing 121, you're free and clear.

so, despite the fact that i love to read, and i love to write, i'm woefully lacking in any formal education in the subject. it's something i wish i could remedy.

yesterday i was browsing around the sale that is going-out-of-business borders, when i stumbled across one of the more famous writing help books: The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White.

i've seen it referenced before, in a chatty, surely you know this one sort of way, but never owned it. and i can already see why it's such a classic.

so far, i can't even leave the 'misused words and expressions' chapter, which is probably good, because that's probably my worst crime. in fact, i can't imagine what a field day White would have with my blogs overall.

even though it's highly subjective, i love it. there's some comforting in the authoritative tone of the book. it's like a very wise, very opinionated, very experienced grandfather setting you straight.

"Certainly. Used indiscriminately by some an attempt to intensify any and every statement. A mannerism of this kind, bad in speech, is even worse in writing."

thanks for not sugar-coating it. i wonder what he'd think of my favorite all-purpose modifier (fuck)?

"Contact. As a transitive verb, the word is vague and self-important. 

"Enthuse. An annoying verb growing out of the noun enthusiasm. Not recommended.

"Facility. Why must jails, hospitals, and schools suddenly become "facilities"?

"Factor. A hackneyed word; the expressions of which it is a part can usually be replaced by something more direct and idiomatic. 

"Finalize. A pompous, ambiguous verb."

of course, we all have our grammar or style pet peeves. if ashley's reading, i'll just ask her about the King and I. i had the horrors of the misused apostrophe drummed into me from a very early age, by my mother, the self-appointed apostrophe police, who never realized she could've made a fortune by making her complaints public.  

then, just when i'm cruising along in somewhat self-satisfied smugness, nodding my head to such sage advice, i reach one that hits a little too close to home:

"Hopefully. This once-useful adverb meaning 'with hope' has been distorted and is now widely used to mean 'I hope' or 'it is to be hoped.' Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say, 'Hopefully I'll leave on the noon plane' is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you'll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you'll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven't said it clearly."

ouch. but thanks, White. i still love you for the trumpeter of the swan.

1 comment:

  1. tis horrifying how we all misuse so many words & phrases all the time. it's best not to think about it! let the grammar heroes be offended. i know i've given up & forgotten all meanings over time. your posts are always well written & interesting. you clearly communicate your message. that's more then most of us can say!