Category Archives: Language and Style

William Safire’s 18 steps to better writing

It’s not known if William Safire, who wrote the “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine for 30 years till earlier this month, was conversant with the ways of social media, but it is safe to presume that he would have been horrified at how his demise last night was coveyed to readers subscribing to Jim Romenesko‘s media notes via Google Reader.

“NYT ‘On Language’ columnist Safire dies at 79”

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Of course, Safire, the author of “the nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history”, would get the joke, but you get the picture?

Neatorama has a compilation of Safire’s rules for writing:

*  Remember to never split an infinitive
* The passive voice should never be used
* Do not put statements in the negative form
* Verbs have to agree with their subjects
* Proofread carefully to see if you words out
* If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
* A writer must not shift your point of view
* And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
* Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
* Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents
* Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided
* If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is
* Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors
* Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky
* Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing
* Always pick on the correct idiom
* The adverb always follows the verb
* Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives

Read The New York TimesWilliam Safire obituary

Also read: George Orwell‘s six rules for better writing

Sir V.S. Naipaul‘s seven rules for writers

‘How can you say it better in your own style?’

James Thurber, the legendary New Yorker writer-cartoonist, in a 1959 memo on editing:

“Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”

Link via Jason Kottke

‘A grammar book by grammatical incompetents’

April 16, 2009, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Elements of Style, the landmark book by William Strunk and E.B. White.

In The Chronicle Review, Geoffrey K. Pullum, a professor of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh, uses the occasion to stick a long, deep, and well honed knife into the “little book” that is loved and admired by anally-retentive, grammar conscious journalists.

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense…. both authors were grammatical incompetents…

“Some of the recommendations are vapid, like “Be clear” (how could one disagree?). Some are tautologous, like “Do not explain too much.” (Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn’t.) Many are useless, like “Omit needless words.” (The students who know which words are needless don’t need the instruction.)”

Read the full article: 50 years of stupid grammar advice

Also read: The Elements of Style

Link via Nikhil Moro

The blood stains of a language murdered

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, the former editor of The Statesman and a wordsmith par excellence, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Speaking many years ago at Secunderabad’s Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages on editing an English-language newspaper in India, I recalled having to explain to young journalists that a district is a geographical term and does not always have to have a collector or magistrate.

“I also recalled trying to stress the inappropriateness of writing juggernaut in the archaic English sense of an unstoppable force that crushes all obstacles.

“‘James Cowley uses it,’ the reporter protested, referring to the paper’s elderly London correspondent. When I said that was Anglo-Indian usage, the surprised young man asked, ‘Cowley is Anglo-Indian?'”

Read the full article: For maximum gain