Avoid passive voice
The piece, written by myself, was a fairy play in three acts.
Shouldn't it be 'me'?
[On the other hand, and for the record, I generally have no problem following the good advice of Strunk & White.]
50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice
By GEOFFREY K. PULLUM
April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.
I won't be celebrating.
The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
The authors won't be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk's death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.
This was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents. Strunk had very little analytical understanding of syntax, White even less. Certainly White was a fine writer, but he was not qualified as a grammarian. Despite the post-1957 explosion of theoretical linguistics, Elements settled in as the primary vehicle through which grammar was taught to college students and presented to the general public, and the subject was stuck in the doldrums for the rest of the 20th century.
[read on at]
I would encourage Roberta to offer some reasons for her belief. Simply saying it should doesn't help anyone. Simply saying something should be done is also too strunkian.
I now brace myself for the onslaught. Yeah, I'm Strunkian as hell. I'm an editor. I get paid to fix this crap.
What concerns me is that the bias against the passive is being retailed by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don't know what is a passive construction and what isn't. Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses. "At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard" is correctly identified as a passive clause, but the other three are all errors: ...
The treatment of the passive is not an isolated slip. It is typical of Elements. The book's toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules. They can't help it, because they don't know how to identify what they condemn.
I'm Strunkian in the sense that I follow formal rules for grammar, punctuation, and usage. None of the publishers I work for use Strunk and White. They follow the Chicago Manual of Style--and their own style guidelines.
The Chicago Manual of Style --- and grammar
In the 1890s a proofreader working for the University of Chicago Press prepared a single sheet of guidance on typographic fundamentals and house style. It was augmented over time, and grew into a full style manual. The latest version was published in 2003 as the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. From the first sheet with printing on it to the last it has xviii + 958 = 976 pages, an increase in bulk of almost three orders of magnitude from that original information sheet. I finally ordered the 15th edition at the LSA book exhibit in January, when I saw that it included a new 93-page chapter on ‘Grammar and Usage’. My copy just arrived. Unfortunately, I now see, the new chapter does not represent an improvement.
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is an unparalleled resource for those engaged in publishing, particularly of academic material. But the Press decided to farm out the topic of grammar and usage, and the writer they selected was Bryan A. Garner, a former associate editor of the Texas Law Review who now teaches at Southern Methodist University School of Law and has written several popular books on usage and style. His chapter is unfortunately full of repetitions of stupidities of the past tradition in English grammar " more of them than you could shake a stick at.
But, Roberta, the simple fact of the matter is you don't, save for your work. The CMoS is no better than S&W for describing the grammar for how our language actually works.
I don't use the CMoS for grammar. I don't know anyone who does. It's helpful for issues of punctuation (does the superscript reference number go inside or outside a colon?), capitalization, and other stylistic matters.
My concern when I write and when I edit is primarily for clarity (and issues the publisher is paying me to be concerned about).
When I tutored ESL students, I found that they were uncomfortable with our loosey-goosey approach to speaking. They wanted specific answers to specific questions. My saying, "It depends," drove them nuts.
When I see questions here from people who are not native English speakers, I assume that they want a specific answer to a specific question. When I choose to respond, that's what I give them.