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  #51  
Old 02-17-2020, 07:20 PM
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Right. Strunk, the guy of Strunk and White, first wrote his manual for freshman at Cornell, back in the days when only a tiny percentage of the elite went to college. Spelling wasn't included but everything else was the most basic conceivable instruction in how to write an English sentence.

Everything people complain about today, as guizot said, is because we now see the everyday writing skills of 90% of the public. Back when I was a kid nobody but schoolteachers did. And they weren't happy with what they saw.

Stitch a sampler with 'NOTHING EVER CHANGES" and stare at it before complaining about how modern things are worse than they used to be. They aren't. We are living in the best times humanity has ever seen.

And that's coming from an old curmudgeon and pessimist.
  #52  
Old 02-18-2020, 04:42 AM
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It was 1996 when I first got on the internet. That was the year when the true extent of poor spelling was revealed to me. Almost everything I'd read until then had been edited for publication.

I still haven't recovered from the dismay.
  #53  
Old 02-18-2020, 09:34 AM
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Right. Strunk, the guy of Strunk and White, first wrote his manual for freshman at Cornell, back in the days when only a tiny percentage of the elite went to college. Spelling wasn't included but everything else was the most basic conceivable instruction in how to write an English sentence.
If you revere Strunk & White, think again.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice
http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/50years.pdf
  #54  
Old 02-18-2020, 11:58 AM
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It was 1996 when I first got on the internet. That was the year when the true extent of poor spelling was revealed to me. Almost everything I'd read until then had been edited for publication.

I still haven't recovered from the dismay.
My sentiments exactly, although I didn't get on the internet until 2000.
  #55  
Old 02-18-2020, 02:12 PM
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It was 1996 when I first got on the internet. That was the year when the true extent of poor spelling was revealed to me. Almost everything I'd read until then had been edited for publication.

I still haven't recovered from the dismay.
I believe there tends to be a strong correlation between poor spelling and poor grammar with poor information in general. If someone is too lazy or careless to bother to write comprehensibly, they are not likely to be well-read or to have fact-checked multiple sources of reliable information before opining on their pet issues in online media that potentially have worldwide exposure. The internet has been the egregious enabler of all of this.

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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post

Stitch a sampler with 'NOTHING EVER CHANGES" and stare at it before complaining about how modern things are worse than they used to be. They aren't. We are living in the best times humanity has ever seen.
Broad generalizations about how "things" are better or worse aren't very meaningful. What things, specifically? Technology has brought tremendous improvements to our lives but not everything is universally better. Churchill reputedly said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on, and the internet has amplified that a million-fold. Responsible journalism is dying while Facebook and Twitter are thriving.
  #56  
Old 02-18-2020, 02:19 PM
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If you revere Strunk & White, think again.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice
http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/50years.pdf
Meh. People love to nitpick Strunk & White and mostly for all the wrong reasons. Even your link doesn't object to the style elements. I've always held that people who need advice are much better off heeding Strunk & White than reading nothing at all. And few alternatives that people will actually read, rather than the extremely short S&W, are any better.

None of that, however, is relevant to my point. Which is that ELITE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS GOING TO COLLEGE 100 YEARS AGO REQUIRED BASIC INSTRUCTION TO PUT TOGETHER A DECENT ENGLISH SENTENCE.
  #57  
Old 02-18-2020, 02:23 PM
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Churchill reputedly said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on, and the internet has amplified that a million-fold.
Definitely not Churchill. Much, much older. The Internet could have told you that.
  #58  
Old 02-18-2020, 02:57 PM
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Definitely not Churchill. Much, much older. The Internet could have told you that.
Thanks for the correction. I was probably recalling an instance when Churchill said it, thinking that he had originated it.

As for Strunk & White, I see it's commentary from Riemann's pal Geoff Pullum again. I enjoy reading Pullum but the man is something of a natural-born contrarian. He reminds me of Richard Lindzen, a former atmospheric physicist at MIT who was a competent climate scientist but enjoyed being a climate change denier in his spare time because, as far as I could tell, it was fun and got lots of reaction. The thing about S&W is that if you know how to write well, you can break many of those rules and still produce excellent writing, which in fact is true of many grammar rules in general. But if you don't, it's a useful guide. At least Pullum admits that E.B. White was a wonderful writer. He was a staffer and contributor to the venerable New Yorker for nearly 60 years, and became a legend among its writers and editorial staff.
  #59  
Old 02-18-2020, 03:07 PM
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Even your link doesn't object to the style elements.
But what's relevant to a thread about grammar is that they are clearly shit at understanding grammatical structure, which kind of undermines their credentials for teaching it.

Last edited by Riemann; 02-18-2020 at 03:07 PM.
  #60  
Old 02-18-2020, 07:06 PM
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But what's relevant to a thread about grammar is that they are clearly shit at understanding grammatical structure, which kind of undermines their credentials for teaching it.
What I find remarkable is that someone who is "shit at understanding grammatical structure" could be regarded as a beautiful and legendary writer at one of the world's greatest literary magazines. Maybe you're taking your pal Pullum's contrarianism a bit too seriously. Sometimes Pullum reminds me of Angus McAllister, the fictional hot-headed Scot gardener in the Wodehouse Blandings novels.
  #61  
Old 02-18-2020, 07:36 PM
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But what's relevant to a thread about grammar is that they are clearly shit at understanding grammatical structure, which kind of undermines their credentials for teaching it.
This was never a thread about grammar. Nobody here has talked about grammar or downgraded people for poor grammar.

Just out of curiosity, though, what do you recommend for people if not S&W?
  #62  
Old 02-18-2020, 10:44 PM
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I consulted A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language to figure out the genitive plural of "Arkansas". This big, fat volume should answer most of your grammatical needs.

Last edited by DPRK; 02-18-2020 at 10:44 PM.
  #63  
Old 02-19-2020, 01:05 AM
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Pullum?




But I hardly know him!
  #64  
Old 02-19-2020, 01:17 AM
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What I find remarkable is that someone who is "shit at understanding grammatical structure" could be regarded as a beautiful and legendary writer at one of the world's greatest literary magazines.
Do you really find it that remarkable that somebody could be talented at doing something, while being unable to analyze it accurately and poor at teaching it?

In Strunk & White's diatribe against the passive, three of four examples that they cite do not contain any passive construction! Calling someone "contrarian" is hardly a criticism if they are contradicting erroneous nonsense.

Last edited by Riemann; 02-19-2020 at 01:22 AM.
  #65  
Old 02-19-2020, 11:31 AM
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Do you really find it that remarkable that somebody could be talented at doing something, while being unable to analyze it accurately and poor at teaching it?

In Strunk & White's diatribe against the passive, three of four examples that they cite do not contain any passive construction! Calling someone "contrarian" is hardly a criticism if they are contradicting erroneous nonsense.
So your (and Pullum's) claim is that White wrote beautifully without having any idea how he did it or why it was good. There is certainly some truth to the idea that many people can intuitively write well without being able to articulate in precise linguistic terminology why one version of a sentence is better than another, but it's surely a huge stretch of credibility to believe that White was as ignorant of English grammar as Pullum would like us to believe. The major criticism of S&W, coming mainly from those of a strong descriptivist inclination, is that rules are only guidelines and that any statement uttered by a native English speaker that is lucid and perhaps even creatively expressive is good English regardless of what rules it may be flouting, so I fail to see why the ability to explain the technical minutia of grammatical structure is suddenly so important to descriptivists like Pullum and yourself.

Here is a guy who is touted as a famous expert in legal writing who takes issue with many of Pullum's criticisms. (Ironically, this was the first article to turn up when I followed Pullum's advice to try a Google search on "great number of dead leaves lying".) He addresses them several points at a time in a series of newsletters, so this one covers only a few of them, but it includes the bit about the passive voice. It's the only one where he acknowledges that Pullum does have a point of sorts in that some of White's "passive" examples are misleading. But though three out of the four examples may not, strictly speaking, be passive, all of them can be improved and strengthened with some restructuring. For example, on the "dead leaves" example, he says "[it] isn’t passive—it’s just weak. Fair enough, but Strunk & White’s advice—favor active transitive verbs and avoid weak openers such as 'there were'—still holds true. As the authors note, strong verbs will make your writing 'lively and emphatic'."

My general belief is that S&W is still a good resource for beginners and those learning ESL, and to some degree even for those who consider themselves good writers. But for most good writers who want to be better writers, the best resource IMHO isn't anybody's rule book, but learning by example by doing a lot of reading of a lot of great writers, and E.B. White would be among them.
  #66  
Old 02-19-2020, 12:49 PM
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I consulted A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language to figure out the genitive plural of "Arkansas". This big, fat volume should answer most of your grammatical needs.
Yep, at 1779 pages it should be in everybody's pocket for consultation.
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