The Elements of Style

From Academic Kids

The Elements of Style ("the little book" – 1918) is an American English writing style guide detailing eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, "a few matters of form" and a list of words or expressions described by its prescriptivist authors as being commonly misused. Updated editions of the paperback book are often required reading for American high school and college composition classes.

The book was originally written and privately published by Cornell University professor William Strunk Jr. and was first revised with the help of Edward A. Tenny in 1935. In 1957, it came to the attention of E. B. White at The New Yorker. White studied under Strunk in 1919 but had forgotten the "little book," a "forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy and brevity in the use of English." A few weeks later, White wrote a piece for The New Yorker lauding Professor Strunk and his devotion to "lucid" English prose. Because the book's original author died in 1946, Macmillan and Company commissioned White to recast a new edition of Elements of Style, which was published in 1959. In this revision White independently expanded and modernized the 1918 work and created "Strunk & White." White's first edition sold some two million copies, and the first three editions totalled ten million over a four decade span.

Strunk's original version concentrated on specific questions of usage, cultivating what he considered good writing and avoiding prolixities: "Make every word tell." White updated and extended these sections, and prefixed an introductory essay adapted from his New Yorker article. He also added the concluding chapter, An Approach to Style, a broader prescriptive guide to writing in English. White updated two more editions of The Elements of Style in 1972 and 1979, when it grew to 85 pages. By the time the fourth edition of "Strunk and White" appeared in 1999 its second author had died, and the manuscript rights were acquired by Longman, who added a forward by White's stepson, Roger Angell, an afterword by Charles Osgood, a glossary and index. The latest edition is 105 pages.

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