‘The Elements of Style’ Turns 50





How does a professional writer discuss “The Elements of Style” without nervously looking over his shoulder and seeing Will Strunk and E. B. White (or thousands of readers of their book) second-guessing him? (Is “second-guessing” hyphenated or not? Is posing a question the same as using the passive voice?)

William Strunk Jr. wrote and self-published the famous “Little Book” as a professor of English. White, his student at Cornell in 1919 and later an author and essayist, first revised the text four decades later after returning it to prominence with an essay in The New Yorker.

In 1959 a New York Times book reviewer pronounced it “a splendid trophy for all who are interested in reading and writing.”

White revised the book again in 1972 and 1979. A fourth edition was published in 2000 with a foreword by White’s stepson, Roger Angell. Since 1959, the publisher says, 10 million copies have been sold. “The Elements of Style” grew so popular as a writer’s bible (upper case?) and high school graduation gift that it became known universally simply as “Strunk and White.”


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