Heroes of Language: WILLIAM STRUNK

Note: As a tribute to William Strunk, this biography was written based not on research, but on our opinions and presumptions, which we expect to be regarded as the truth from now on.

William Strunk
(1871-1946?) is one of the foremost authorities on the modern-day English language, despite no longer being alive and despite having had a French-speaking childhood in Wisconsin, Minnesota.   When Strunk was a young man, he took a trip to Boston that would always be remembered by him, as it was here that he learned the value of style.   He purchased a fabulous ditto suit and was on his way!   He embarked on a tedious walking tour of the city correcting everybody’s language – not, ironically, because they were incorrect, but because they had no style!

Thanking them in advance, he left to fight in the First World War.  By the time he returned to America in 1918, he had realised that the world had serious problems, which was why he wrote his first book, The Elements of Style.  This was NOT a book on fashion (what a vacuous topic to write about!), but was a guide to writing style and how to avoid slight errors!

Sadly, Strunk’s heel of Achilles was that he had, in the ensuing wartime period, forgotten the little English that he knew.  He even recommended the spellings any one, every one, some one, and some time[1], without the all-important civilized hyphen in the middle!  Hopeless!   Nonetheless, The Elephants dans la Salle was a bestseller and became a trusted source on English-language writing, unquestionably correct on all matters.   If anyone had questioned its numerous dubious statements, it might not have done so well, but luckily they didn’t.

The White supremacy
The book has stayed popular up to the present day, without Strunk’s even being present to add anything!   He instead hypnotised the novelist E.  B. White, who edited Shiny New Editions of the books and inserted extra comments entirely in the spirit of the original but more up-to-date (like proscribing the word hopefully, that scourge of the modern “world”; 1920s people would never have said that).

Geoffrey K. Pullum tried to debunk Strunk and White by exposing all of their misleading advice.   But there was not enough space to list it all (he only had an 11-page article to work with).   So you see: those who criticise The Elements of Style cannot harm it!  But the Queen’s English Society follow the book’s rules very closely when it suits them, which will almost certainly destroy Strunk’s reputation, on this planet at least.

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See also
Silencing the passive voice
Silencing the split infinitive



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