Once after Roy Blount Jr. gave an interview on NPR, several friends called wondering why he had answered yes when the host asked, “Are you a drunken white man?”
In fact, the author had admitted to being a fan of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White—a volume often referred to simply by the authors’ last names. Hence the mishearing of “Are you a Strunk and White man?”
Nearly 52 years after its first publication, Elements remains one of the most influential writing guides ever published, having sold more than 10 million copies. And its reach has not diminished in the age of the Internet or under attack from critics who accuse it of irrelevance and even grammatical ineptitude.
It is hard to think of a better prescription for any writer than Strunk and White’s famous rule: “Omit needless words.” As social media makes pithiness essential, the admonition looks not only wise but descriptive of how users of Twitter and Facebook spend their time.
Cleaning up clutter
Blount—who owns three or four editions of the book—hints that adherence to Strunk and White’s precepts might help clear up some of what’s wrong with Internet verbiage.