Undesirable elements

I’ve been spending another week running workshops in California. And every time I come over here, I’m struck by the esteem in which two texts on language are held: the AP Stylebook (I mean, Stylebook? One word?), and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

To a Brit, the quasi-religious reverence these books seem to elicit in the USA is a bit odd. As a rule, I think in the UK we’re a bit more comfortable with the odd bit of linguistic jaywalking. So while I’ve got nothing against following the rules, or the AP Stylebook, if you’re looking for some rules to follow, please, please, please ignore the spurious ramblings of Strunk & White.

The brilliant Language Log has been skewering this ‘horrid little compendium’ better, and for longer, than I ever could (and it’s telling that they file their Strunk & White blogs under ‘prescriptivist poppycock’). But the basic point is this: their rules are so arbitrary and constraining that they can’t even follow them themselves.

And it’s why, when we give our clients writing guidelines, they’re just that; not rules, not laws, and not always right.

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