Friday, February 13, 2009


After lunch on Thursday some friends and I retreated to a nearby cafe for tea and conversation, including a brief overview of what I ate while I was in the U.S. and what I brought back in my suitcase. No one was surprised to hear that I had bagels with me.

In addition to bagels, clothes, shampoo and lotion, I brought back four books: Joy of Cooking (a version issued prior to the inclusion of microwave directions), two poetry anthologies, and my high school copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, the writing guide known and loved by many. The conversation turned to WHY I would need or want it while in China.

Here, much of the English that we read is poorly written, grammatically incorrect, riddled with syntax errors and misspellings. It's annoying, and gets in the way of understanding meaning, but it's something with which we have to deal. Unfortunately, it also results in our writing getting sloppy.

A Venezuelan friend who spent many years in the U.S. commented that her native English-speaking friends had commented on her command of the language deteriorating during her time here. Other friends laughed as we told similar stories. I noted that I've caught myself sending emails with dangling participles and incorrect use of its/it's. We know better.

Long live The Elements of Style, and clear writing.

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