I just got done reading The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White and I have to say that the book, which I can only assume was meant to clarify the rules of how to write, has done nothing but turn my mind into a mushy tired place where rules of grammar go to die.
After hearing what the teacher who assigned this reading had to say- in case anyone was wondering, I did not pick out a book about a dead mans preferred way of writing the English language as simply an enjoyable afternoon read- I was able to actually come up with some moderately constructive thoughts about the usefulness of this book. Maybe…
On page nine, Strunk or White tells us “Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.” So, I decided to try a little experiment. See, in my writing I like to use a fair amount of “abrupt breaks or interruptions”, which I normally place in parenthesis. In my second paragraph above, I took the books advice and put dashes where I would normally put parenthesis. And strangely enough, I think I like it better this new way.
While I did decide to heed the books advice about the dashes, in telling that story I was forced to break the very first rule in the book , “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s”, meaning that I would have had to tell you that I took the “book’s advice”. To me, “book’s” is just a contraction of the words book and is. So I decided not to follow that rule. Actually, I broke quite a few of Strunk and White’s rules in just the first two paragraphs of this little piece-but my mind still feels a little too mushy to go into much more detail about them.
I think that we must all realize that there is no sacred book or guide where we can find some kind of universal rights and wrongs of writing the English language. Because language is a fluid thing-constantly changing- and because of the many different and expressive ways that we use it, there can be very few things that are absolutely right or wrong about it. Certainly some things will just sort-of sound wrong to us because there likely is some kind of innate universal grammar that allows us to learn language in the first place. But I really think after that all bets are off.