The Elements of Style

This is a reference book and I read it from cover to cover, as if it were a novel. The average person may think I’m nuts. Unfortunately, they’re right. The worst of it is, this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve owned this book, but only the first time I’ve cracked it open. I’m embarrassed, but hopefully you won’t make fun of me, to my face at least.

Ah, Strunk and White, as it’s usually referred to. I bought it in college (one). It was given to my whole department in 1998 by the CFO of a company I was working for (two). Additionally, I think I purchased it one other time when I was in the mood to better myself (three). All of those were sold, tossed, or given away.

I identified the need to rehash some basic grammar and stylistic items about a month ago. My sister was looking through one of these blog posts and noticed that I used the word less when I should have used the word fewer. This blew me away because I had no idea what she was talking about. She tried to make me feel better, like any loving sister. She said that she noticed Wal-Mart had made the same error some time ago on a sign to their express lane. That did not console me. I went out shortly thereafter and bought the book again (four).

You may ask, why did you read a reference book from cover to cover? Well, now I’ve at least rehashed a litany of rules, principles, and approaches that good writers use. Hopefully, I’m better equipped to recognize when I’ve committed some error or stylistic gaffe. For example, now I know when I use the word aggravate, I should be sure I don’t mean irritate. Or if I use the word partially, I should be sure I don’t mean partly. Plus, there are some gems like this:

The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.

You can’t deny the beauty in that statement. I didn’t consider these things before today.

Hey, I’m a quant jock trying to make it in a blogosphere filled with lit majors and lawyers. I need some help, and Strunk and White is there for me.