A Few Words About Style

Go ahead--weep a little. It's a thing to behold.

OK, everybody. Put away your phones and tiny keyboards for a few minutes. We are going to enjoy a refresher course in writing, mixed with some simple reminders about style.

Stop your whining. And no, you can’t go to the bathroom.

You are looking at Ted Sorensen’s copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, the go-to guide for concise and eloquent writing that should be glued to the hands of every high school and college student enrolled in any sort of course that isn’t math. It is also a handy tool for non-students to have beside the computer to prevent the escape of poorly written e-mails. Really. Try it some time. Works like a charm.

Long, long ago (in March), we learned the pivotal role Strunk and White played in JFK’s speech writing staff. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I grew a little teary-eyed as I stood before this encased copy in Boston–that same city where I nearly died from eating an apparently not-so-healthy steelhead trout. Seriously.

E.B. White himself said, “Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” White was commissioned to take up where William Strunk’s “little book” from decades earlier left off, to revise and repackage it so that people would have some decency about themselves and have some standards, don’t you know. He didn’t reflect and interpret. He bossed us around with his informing and shaping ways. That was in 1957. Four years later, Sorensen–JFK ‘s chief speechwriter–turned to a copy of that book to help pen the inaugural address. JFK probably best summarizes White’s “Elementary Principles of Composition” in this directive:

Thanks to Strunk and White, the omission of needless words and the use of concrete language characterized the Kennedy presidency.

"Soon after the election, Kennedy turned to one of his closest advisors to help him craft the inaugural address." Sorensen had a trick up his sleeve, in the form of Strunk and White. I prefer "adviser" to "advisor." AP says I should, and Webster says I can.

As Jackie chats it up with Robert Frost, JFK keeps conversation with Pearl Buck light and breezy, with an ear to proper tense and clarity, thanks to good breeding ... and (no doubt) Strunk and White.

For those interested in Strunk and White — put your hands down, please — check out the ILLUSTRATED version. (These are exciting times.) Mine is six years old and delivers more fun than a grammar book should. Possible beach read? I think so.

Class dismissed.

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