Friday, November 7, 2008

National Punctuation Day...and a review of The Elements of Style

Hey, why didn't anyone tell me that I missed it! As you all know September 23 was National Punctuation Day, right?
Punctuation, and spelling, are the bane of my blogging existence, which you, my dear readers, may have noticed. Exactly what are the rules for using commas? Have you semi-coloned today? Is the use of the dash ---- or the ellipse ... ever proper in writing?
Well, it is nice to know that I am not the only one with these issues as this column by Craig Wilson in USA Today discusses.

Yes, I think that he and I might have both been absent from school on the day that the proper use of the comma was discussed. And that is not even to start on the exclamation mark!
“My journalism professor, who loathed exclamation points, is rolling in his grave, and if he's not there yet, I'm sure an e-mail from me could send him there. His rule: Never use an exclamation point unless the sentence is about the end of the world, and the end of the world is tomorrow. Example: The end is near!
F. Scott Fitzgerald understood the exclamation point. He said, "An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes."

Ok, and the problem with that is what? Someone should, afterall.

Well, you may be happy to know that in an attempt to deal with these and other writing issues, I recently purchased a copy of The Elements of Style, a classic on writing style and usage, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Yes, that E.B.White, he of Charlotte's Web fame. Strunk, a professor at Cornell, wrote and self published the book in 1918 and White, who had been a student of Strunks's, updated and revised the book and a new edition was published in 1959. To quote Wikipedia's article on the third edition,
“Fifty-four pointers are presented along with a list of common mistakes concerning individual words: Eleven rules of punctuation and grammar; eleven principles of writing; eleven matters of form; and twenty-one reminders for a better style in Chapter V, which White wrote with no input from William Strunk, who had died previously. The last reminder, "Prefer the standard to the offbeat", reads like a separate essay and contains advice on the proper mindset of a writer, such as urging the writer to try to please only himself and aim for "one moment of felicity", as Robert Louis Stevenson found, so that the writer's words would live on.”

And they do explain the proper use of the comma! Oh, look, a list of commonly misspelled words!
The third edition is good enough for me..I am a little backward...but you might like to spring for the newer 4th edition or the very newly published The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition
A very useful, timeless and even, on occasion, a rather amusing book.


  1. This book got me through university!

  2. I think I need this book, too. I love bullets and use them whenever I can and they're probably taboo. I also love a good dash.

  3. Happily, it is a surprising short book.
    I wish I had it in college! Why did no one mention it? I wish I had it years ago.

    I think that the internet has ruined my writing...IM'ing...all those short cuts...and I love my ...'s

  4. that's a great book- very useful and illuminating. :-)


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