On Strunk and White and Email

The-Elements-of-StyleI read The Elements of Style like a spiritual handbook. It offers both encouragement and instruction, hugs and slaps, that keep my editor’s soul thriving and on the straight and narrow. I’m sure many others feel a similar affection to this book too.

But have you ever read the foreword? I own the 4th edition, which includes a foreword by Roger Angell, E.B. White’s stepson. In the foreword he makes a passing reference to email.

“…the rules-free, lower-case flow that cheerfully keeps us in touch these days.” He then calls it “conversation” (see pages x and xi).

This off-hand comment jumped out at me because I sometimes laugh at myself for how much I edit emails before sending them. Writing an email takes me (seemingly) forever. I often restructure sentences, delete and rewrite whole paragraphs, and revise my opening or closing salutations. I usually type emails in a flurry (which means they’re filled with spelling errors) and then revise them at a snail’s pace.

Despite all of this, my emails are still filled with errors. I am only a wannabe grammarian. Most of my editing is in acquisitions or at the macro level. I am not asked to do true line editing and would most likely be terrible at it. (Indeed, a true grammarian could probably have a field day with this blog post. All I see are the three groaner cliches I’ve used. Can you spot them too?)

Anyway, this passage in the foreword made me smile. Despite my wannabe-grammarian status, I don’t think I could ever email someone a message with only lowercase letters, though I undoubtedly break the rules of grammar all the time.

What about you?


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