Friday, September 23, 2011

"do not affect a breezy manner"

Show of hands: who here owns The Elements of Style and purports to love it but has not actually gotten through it all, despite its being less than a hundred pages long for chrissakes? Just me? Okay then.

I was recently encouraged to read the last chapter, An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders), a 1959 add-on by E.B. White. Words cannot express how much I do indeed love him. Or, rather, my words can't, so here are some of his.

E.B. White on not "injecting opinion":

If you have received a letter inviting you to speak at the dedication of a new cat hospital, and you hate cats, your reply, declining the invitation, does not necessarily have to cover the full range of your emotions. You must make it clear that you will not attend, but you do not have to let fly at cats. The writer of the letter asked a civil question; attack cats, then, only if you can do so with good humor, good taste, and in such a way that your answer will be courteous as well as responsive. Since you are out of sympathy with cats, you may quite properly give this as a reason for not appearing at the dedicatory ceremonies of a cat hospital. But bear in mind that your opinion of cats was not sought, only your services as a speaker. Try to keep things straight.

E.B. White on not taking "shortcuts at the cost of clarity":

Not everyone knows that SALT means Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and even if everyone did, there are babies being born every minute who will someday encounter the name for the first time.

E.B. White on choosing "the standard over the offbeat":

Youth invariably speaks to youth in a tongue of his own devising: he renovates the language with a wild vigor, as he would a basement apartment.

All pretty compelling advice if you ask me. But then again, I am a cat lover/hater with a history of basement-apartment living and a current post learning to help birth babies, which babies I will from now on be envisioning doing their drooling instead in high school history class.

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