We look back on the elements of style as this year marked the “official” golden anniversary of succinct, witty prose.
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s guide to writing, The Elements of Style, was published as a book on April 16, 1959, more than 40 years after Strunk wrote the guide while teaching at Cornell University. White’s expansion of the writing guide in 1959 turned the textbook into a national best-seller, and it became requisite reading in English classes everywhere.
Notorious for its maxim “Omit needless words!,” the short book has taken on biblical status in some circles (especially the world of newspapers, where space once was limited). And like the Bible, there are many who discount the guide as a product of its time that’s now out of date. Both groups were in attendance at the Museum of the City of New York on April 16 when the museum assembled a panel discussion to commemorate the book’s 50th birthday.
The four panelists included:
- Barbara Wallraff, a word junkie and senior editor at The Atlantic, and author of language books Word Court and Your Own Words.
- Roy Blount Jr., a fellow funny Atlantic scribe who might be more famous to public radio folks for his appearances on the NPR program “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…”
- Roger Rosenblatt, a distinguished essayist for Time and The NewsHour, and former editor at The New Republic
- Lauren Lipton, a freelance journalist and author of the just-released Mating Rituals of the North American WASP.
Is The Elements of Style out of style? You tell us.