Memoir writers unsure of their grammar often ask me to recommend a reference. After all these years, I still mention The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. Yes, that’s the same E.B. White who authored the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web. If you ever took English 101 in college, you may have The Elements of Style sitting on a bookcase somewhere. First published in 1959, it was at one time a standard required text and, while some points are dated, I find that it has mostly stood the test of time.
When you think of a grammar or style book, you probably envision a huge, hardback, doorstop-worthy tome, but Strunk and White’s soft-cover, 71-page booklet can fit into a coat pocket. Yet it covers everything from fine points of grammar to broad suggestions on style. Here’s one example of the more general advice, found under the topic, “Avoid fancy words”:
“Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able….If you admire fancy words, if every sky is beauteous, every blonde curvaceous, if you are tickled by discombobulate, you will have a bad time with [this reminder]….There is nothing wrong, really, with any word—all are good, but some are better than others….The line between the fancy and the plain, between the atrocious and the felicitous, is sometimes alarmingly fine.”