The Elements of Style

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The Elements of Style (1918) (aka Strunk & White), by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White, is a prescriptive American English writing style guide comprising eight "elementary rules of usage," ten "elementary principles of composition," “a few matters of form,” a list of forty-nine "words and expressions commonly misused," and a list of fifty-seven "words often misspelled."

Contents

History

Cornell University English professor William Strunk, Jr., wrote The Elements of Style in 1918, privately published it in 1919, and first revised it in 1935 with editor Edward A. Tenney. In 1957 at The New Yorker magazine, the style guide reached the attention of writer E. B. White, who had studied writing under Strunk in 1919, but had since forgotten the "little book" that he described as a "forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English."[1]

Weeks later, he wrote a feature story lauding the professor’s devotion to lucid written English prose. Meantime, Macmillan and Company publishers had commissioned White to revise The Elements of Style, then 41 years old, for a 1959 edition, because Strunk had died 13 years earlier, in 1946. His expansion and modernization of the 1935 revised edition yielded the new writing style manual, since known as Strunk & White, whose first revised edition sold some two million copies. Since 1959 the total sales of three editions of the book, in four decades, exceeded ten million copies.[2]

In the 1918 original edition Strunk concentrates upon specific questions of usage and the cultivation of good writing by recommending: "Make every word tell." One composition principle, the 17th, is the simple instruction: "Omit needless words."[3] The 1959 edition features White's updated expansions of those sections, the "Introduction" essay (derived from his Strunk feature story), and the concluding chapter, "An Approach to Style," a broader, prescriptive guide to writing in English.

Later, E.B. White updated the second (1972) and third (1979) editions of The Elements of Style, by which time it had grown to 85 pages. By publication of the fourth edition in 1999 the second author of Strunk and White had been dead 14 years, since 1985.

The fourth edition omits Strunk's advice to use masculine pronouns "unless the antecedent is or must be feminine",[4] noting that "many writers find the use of the generic he ... limiting or offensive."[5] It provides additional advice for avoiding an "unintentional emphasis on the masculine"[6] in the renamed entry “They. He or She.” in Chapter IV: Misused Words and Expressions.[7]

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