Essay / Culture

Surfers Defeat Strunk & White!

The New York Times called Strunk & White’s Elements of Style “as timeless as a book can be in our age of volubility.” It is a strong book, written with the same economy and sturdiness it calls forth from would-be writers. It is even a delight to read, at once funny and sage.

But once, it is wrong. In the final chapter on style written by William Strunk Jr.’s student, E. B. White–famous for Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, and one of our finest essayists–White counsels writers to “prefer the standard to the offbeat.” He explains:

Youth invariable speaks to youth in a tongue of his own devising: he renovates the language with a wild vigor, as he would a basement apartment. By the time this paragraph sees print, uptight, ripoff, rap, dude, vibes, copout, and funky will be the words of yesteryear, and we will be fielding more recent ones that have come bouncing into our speech–some of them into our dictionary as well.

Dude, Mr. White, you were so wrong.

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