15 Apr 2009

If you still think Strunk & White is a good book

Submitted by Karl Hagen
check out this withering critique by Geoff Pullum in The Chronicle of Higher Education. If you're a regular Language Log reader, it won't be news to you. The article generally recapitulates points that Pullum has made on that blog over the last several years. One thing that Pullum doesn't touch on but which I also find pernicious is the list of misused words, a list that always had a lot of questionable items but which, because of the books age, contains many objections that are now obsolete by any reasonable standard. (The occasional new editions have removed some of the most ridiculous ones, but others remain.)


Is Strunk & White - to which I got a glancing exposure in junior high - the reason I still feel a whiff of offended superiority whenever I see enormity used in the sense of 'immensity?' In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen it used in the sense of 'monstrous crime' - in usage guides, yes, but not in texts about monstrous crimes.

That one is in S&W, although the stigmatization of 'enormity' in the sense of large size predates Strunk. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage puts down the prohibition to usage writers who read the synonym notes in the dictionary without bothering to read the actual definitions.