I admit, there are parts of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style that I am very happy to see written in simple terms that are easy to understand. The chapter covering misused words and expressions had some of my favorite entries. I have known for ages that there is a difference between the words nauseous and nauseated. However, I have struggled at times to remember which word to use at which times. Almost always, I say, “I feel nauseated” because it felt right to me. Now, I can look to page 53 if I am ever in doubt and double check. Also, in that chapter, I saw one of my biggest pet peeves covered by the authors. I have been on a crusade of sorts to get people I know to stop using the phrase “I could care less” incorrectly. It is one thing if that is what they mean to say, but rarely is this the case. I’ve had many debates with friends and acquaintances over this phrase. Part of me wants to photocopy page 42 of the book and keep it in my wallet to show to people when I hear them use it incorrectly! It is very annoying to me!
However, this ties directly into what I didn’t like about this book. Mainly, I did not like that so many pet peeves were in a style guide. Language is constantly evolving. Some words and “rules” get changed or fall out of favor over time. This book has been around long enough to seem out of date. Shall vs will? Truthfully, how often does anyone say shall today? Even if it is being used in a grammatically correct way, it is not a popular word anymore. The Oxford comma, referred to as the serial comma by Strunk and White, has been the subject of debate for some time now. The Wikipedia page for the serial comma lists 10 style guides that say it is mandatory to use the serial comma and 8 style guides that say the exact opposite. It is confusing!
Now, how will I apply some of what I read in this book? Well, I will work on writing in the active voice and with concrete language. I swear I am one of the few college students that has been slammed for writing in the passive voice on papers. It annoys me because I don’t even realize I am doing it! I have changed at least 3 sentences that were in the passive voice already in this blog entry! (Sadly, I probably missed a few as well). Also, I find myself wanting to check my writing for possible misuses of the words that and which. I have not heard the difference between these two words before in quite the way the authors discussed it. The authors said, “Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining whiches, and by so doing improve their work” (59). More than anything, however, I am sure I will use this book as the reference guide it is. It will not become my style Bible, but another useful reference tool to use when I want to be as clear as possible in my writing.