Every now and then, however, the little red flag on TED's virtual mailbox pops up, and we get to indulge in a little epistolary back-and-forth with one of you. Today, for instance, a kind reader wrote to reassure me that, pace my recent worrying in these pages, (s)he has no trouble understanding my writings. However, citing what (s)he obviously considered a particularly egregious example of what I might characterize as literary overreach, (s)he remarked:
Strunk & White (probably too provincial for your Cosmopolitan grammatical palate) advise writing in nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. Otherwise "turgid and elephantine" prose results. It would be dishonest of me to say that phrase has never crossed my mind whilst reading your posts.
("Strunk & White," for those of you in the audience who are numerate yet illiterate, was not a predecessor firm to legendary white shoe investment bank White Weld, later subsumed into Merrill Lynch. It rather refers to that wonderful guide to writing in the English language, The Elements of Style, by William B. Strunk Jr., with revisions, an introduction, and a chapter on writing by E.B. White. Highly recommended for all current and aspiring belle-lettrists.1)
I can certainly appreciate why some might agree with my nameless correspondent's characterization of my outpourings as "turgid and elephantine." I, however, prefer to view them as "turbid and orotund."
In any event, I cannot fault my correspondent's taste in style manuals. In fact, after I concluded our exchange, I took down my dogeared and dusty copy of S&W to leaf through its pages of wisdom yet again. Of course, the book naturally fell open to what is perhaps S&W's most famous dictum, Principle 17 of the Principles of Composition:
"Omit needless words."
For the nonce, I have decided to take that advice.
1 Whatever you do, however, do not buy the awful 2005 edition of S&W with the hideous pink cover and the insipid illustrations by Maira Kalman. Illustrated Strunk & White? The mind reels.
© 2007 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.