The Elements of Style: "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice"

The advice in the beloved The Elements of Style "ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense," wrote Geoffrey K. Pullum (head of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh) in his 2009 essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Why does he despise a book that thousands of high school and college professors foist on their students and has a 4.6 star rating on Amazon with 2,622 reviews?

Here are a few reasons:

  • "…both authors were grammatical incompetents…"
  • "Some of the recommendations are vapid, like 'Be clear' (how could one disagree?). Some are tautologous, like 'Do not explain too much.' (Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn't.) Many are useless, like 'Omit needless words.' (The students who know which words are needless don't need the instruction.)"
  • "…advice on that topic [grammar] does real damage. It is atrocious."
  • The book's contempt for its own grammatical dictates seems almost willful, as if the authors were flaunting the fact that the rules don't apply to them. But I don't think they are.