The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English

By Bierma, Nathan | Verbatim, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English


Bierma, Nathan, Verbatim


The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English, by Bill Walsh. (McGraw-Hill, 2004. 238 pp. ISBN 0071422684, US$14.95).

It was a tall order for Bill Walsh to improve on Lapsing into a Comma. Not the book itself--which was fine but far from exhaustive--it was that winsome title that seemed to defy a worthy pun for a sequel. But the title of his second book succeeds in two ways. First, while Lapsing focused on finer points of journalistic style for fellow copy editors (Walsh is the copy chief for national news at the Washington Post), Elephants is hunting big game, or, as Walsh puts it, "the major usage points that educated people sometimes disagree about (or should that be about which educated people sometimes disagree?)."

Even better, the title is a play on what many English teachers regard as the owner's manual for the English language: Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. "Elephants" suggests the pachydermal bearing with which Strunk and White's book looms over the shoulders of English 101 students, sometimes rendering their writing more rote than written. Walsh challenges the notion that the elephants of Elements are huge, immovable objects. He initially claims that Elements' argument against beginning a sentence with However is about the only one he finds "unconvincing." However, he ends up inveighing against various Strunk and White prohibitions, many in his chapter "Lies Your English Teacher Told You." "I attach a big asterisk to the 'Omit needless words' credo from the original Elements", Walsh says. "I like a little writing with nay writing," so long as it isn't "bright-and-breezy-magaziney."

Then there's the split infinitive, the cardinal sin everyone loves to really hate. Trying too hard to keep an infinitive intact can lead to sentences like this one in a 2003 wire story: "Secretary of State Colin Powell said Iraq failed totally to account for its weapons of mass destruction." (Powell was saying Iraq's accounting was incomplete.) Move totally too far afield, Walsh says, "and the sentence sounds like the work of a thirteen-year-old Valley girl ('Iraq, like, totally failed to account for the weapons!')." Walsh also says that notre is sounds "stilted," as does it is hoped that for hopefully, and recommends a response to complaints about your sentence fragments: "So what?"

So although Walsh identifies himself as a curmudgeon, you might call his approach compassionate prescriptivism, or at least flexible fussiness. And while many of his examples come from journalism, he has good advice for anyone looking to stay out of the SIC! …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.