Where Everyone is a Writer and a Reader

Writing in the New Yorker in December of 1928, E. B. White recounts an encounter with a paid for hire writer. The writer is getting paid “fifty cents a word,” and is grimly disappointed when White advises that “willy-nilly” gets a hyphen, “at a cost of half a dollar.” Laura Miller, writing in Salon, must…

Piracy off the Coast of Gramarye

Huddleston and Pullum’s English Grammar liberates grammar studies from the prescriptivists. Pullum boards the jolly, unsuspecting ship Elements of Style, captained by the evil E. B. White, and ransacks it, taking no prisoners. Pullum is now king of Gramarye, having deposed White and his motley crew of prescriptive pirates. A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar is the dinghy…

Grammar Shock: Person, Tense, Time, and Sense

For most of us, grammar is like electricity; we use it all the time, usually correctly, but we don’t really know what it is or how it works, but we do know it can be dangerous. We wouldn’t want to discuss inflection while standing barefoot in a pool of water, or mix tenses when changing fuses. We…

APA Caution: Metaphor Crossing

We don’t find E. B. White adhering to APA guidelines. It’s more palatable monkeying with rats if one denies them human characteristics. One rule that hasn’t changed in the new 6th edition APA manual concerns a warning against the use of metaphor, specifically anthropomorphic connotations (p. 69). One may not use metaphor; the question is,…

New Outbreak of Grammar Influenza

We’ve only just noticed someone else coming to the aid of the mistreated E. B. White – Jennifer Balderama, in a Times review of Mark Garvey’s Stylized. We find Simon & Shuster’s description of Elements and its influence hyperbolic, but they’re trying to sell a book, not grammar, while it does sound like Garvey misses…

Stanley Fish, Full of Ethos

Few bloggers are as full of ethos as Stanley Fish – as he frequently reminds us. He’s lately been waxing on the teaching of writing. He’s simply trying to challenge his community. We like that Fish recently invoked Francis Christensen’s generative rhetoric (though he doesn’t mention Erskine). And Fish didn’t trash E. B. White, though he did…

Kicking E. B. White When He’s Down

To a neighborly inquiry, yes, we saw the vicious attack on the venerable E. B. White, first in the Chronicle, then, with several bystanders jumping on for a kick or two, in the Times. We first became aware of Pullum at Emdashes, where, we thought, Martin Schneider – omitting needless words – handled the matter…

Distance of First Person Plural

For some time we’ve been thinking of addressing the blog’s use of the first person plural. Are we a group blog, or command central for some multiple personality? Are we looking for safety in number? At St. Anthony’s in the early sixties we lined up outdoors in front of our classrooms following recess, shortest in the front to tallest…

E. B. White and the plumber

In December of 1930, E. B. White wrote a piece for the New Yorker about the garbageman. “They have the town by the tail and they know it,” White concluded, after a brief study of the can collector’s habits. We like to watch the trashman too, the descendants of White’s subjects, wrestling now with new…

A word of one’s own

Comfortably ensconced in our reading lair, hidden behind the arras of the Dec. 8 New Yorker, perusing the cartoons, time passing easily, and find our Eric has been at work on his French, annotating the Mankoff cartoon caption “A la Recherche des Cheveux Perdus” (p. 68) with the translation “Remember Hair Lost.” What is past is…

Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

Maybe Higgins wanting to read aloud is explained by Annie Dillard’s claim that “The written word is weak” (p. 17). Yet for Dillard writing is a trade, like carpentry, or plumbing, hard work. The writer is a day laborer, digging a ditch, head down, not looking at anything, the ditch caving in, dirt falling back…

El Porto Waltz

We found ourselves last night dancing at the ballroom again. We lost interest in the lesson quickly though, and chose to sit down, though our partner danced on, promenading around the dance floor, celebrating the dance community’s values. We thought of E. B. White’s dictum “Omit needless words.” Adapted for dance, it reads “Omit needless steps.” The…