Elements of criticism

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I recently fell in love with The Elements of Style1, especially the illustrated version. Quickly thereafter a web search revealed the criticism of Geoffrey K. Pullum, in the essay 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice. Turns out he’s not really a fan of good old Strunk & White. At first I thought it was a drive-by criticism; a one-off critique by a scholar with no follow-up. I realize now, that he has followed up.

These kinds of authoritative debates always frustrate me when I run into them: because everybody is right—and authoritatively so. I am always left wondering who to trust, which perspective is right, and where to turn next.

My current approach to these types of super-debates is to ask the following three questions:

It’s only fair that I apply these guidelines equally to both the original source, as well as the source of the criticism. In this case:

The conclusion should be clear, Pullum is probably right. So what are some modern, simple, grammar books worth checking out?


  1. I really don’t know how it has evaded me all these years, but maybe for the better? [return]