L. Helm was referring to his personal experience with Strunk’s & White’s
“Elements of Style.”
In the NYT obit to E. B. White, that Helm also cites, there is a nice turn of
phrase, to the effect that only E. B. White only was the one who could ably
flout his own maxims. Yes, maxims – because that’s what they are – almost like
Grice’s – if not Kant’s (The difference between a Griceian and a Kantian maxim
is that all of Grice’s maxims are universalisable, but only the maxim leading
to the categorical imperative is universalisable for Kant).
The Strunk connection is interesting and should remind R. Paul of Cornell, and
McEvoy of Popper.
Strunk was one of White’s profs at Cornell. (As a tangent, it was at Cornell
where White, whose given names are Elwyn Brooks, became to be nicknamed
“Andy.” The reason being, simply, that one of Cornell’s presidents was Andrew
White, and Cornell adopted the practice of giving anyone surnamed White the
nickname “Andy.” With White, “Andy” stuck OUTSIDE (or ‘without’) Cornell!
In any case, ''Elements of Style” White updated from the privately printed
notes made by Strunk.
Apparently, Strunk never meant-nn them to be published! (Cornell being what it
is – and not something else).
The White-Strunk volume is ignored at peril by folks ever since it was first
“Elements of Style” is considered one of the most enduring volumes on English
usage, as Witters would have it (“Meaning is usage.” – but he said it in
The interesting thing is that the wisdom in the volume is both analytical
(rather than dialytical, as Popper would prefer) and practical.
“Elements of Style” reads:
''Vigorous writing is concise” – or vigorous uttering is concise, as Grice
would prefer. Indeed one of Grice’s maxims is: ‘be brief (avoid unnecessary
“Elements of Style”:
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary
sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines
and a machine no unnecessary part."
"This requires not that the [utterer] make all his sentences short, or that he
avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word
Clarity and Grace -- or Clarity and Grice
Since indeed Grice was _obsessed_ with his desideratum of conversational
clarity (And note that in Grice’s later lectures, the fourth conversational
category, Kantian “MODUS,” concerns a supra-maxim, “be perspicuous” under which
a sub-maxim falls: “avoid obscurity of expression.”)
In the latest edition of “Elements of Style”, more than before, words tell
(rather than ‘show,’ as McEvoy would remind us).
For this, Strunk and White, as Grice would, engage in a bit of ‘linguistic
E.g. White calls ''off-putting'' and ''on-going'' new-found adjectives to be
avoided as inexact and “clumsy” (cfr. Grice’s “How clever and unclumsy language
''The adjective “on-going” is a mix of “continuing” and “active” and is usually
superfluous [or otiose, as Grice and Albritton woud prefer].”
“The adjective “off-putting” might mean objectionable, disconcerting or
“Select a word whose meaning is clear!”
is the maxim, where ‘meaning’ and ‘clear’ should be taken in their nice
"As a simple test, transform the participle into the verb."
“Elements of Style” applies the test to ‘on-going’ and ‘off-putting’.
And here comes Strunk & White’s test of linguistic botany:
"It is possible to upset something." – I.e. it is, as ordinary-language
philosopher Grice would have it, a thing people would say.
"But,” Strunk and White note, “to off-put?"
Since ‘offput’ and ‘ongo’ do not pass the test of linguistic botany, they are
un-Griceian in nature – i.e. they do not fit the desideratum of conversational
Other maxims by Strunk and White also sound Griceian in nature:
''Place yourself in the background!”
"Write in a way that comes naturally."
"Work from a suitable design."
"Write with nouns and verbs."
"Do not over-write."
"Do not over-state." (i.e. rely on implicature)
"Avoid the use of qualifiers."
"Do not affect a breezy style."
"Use orthodox spelling."
"Do not explain too much." (Or "Do not explicate too much; implicate, rather!")
"Avoid fancy words."
"Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity."
(This is _extremely_ Griceian in formulation, and appears as coming directly
from Grice’s Oxford lectures on “Logic and Conversation” and how his
desideratum of conversational category should come be first priority).
"Prefer the standard to the off-beat."
"Make sure thy addressee knows who is uttering."
"Do not use dialect."
"Revise and re-write.''
White’s obituarist notes:
“About the only one who has the ability to uphold the good advice in “Elements
of Style” is White himself,” and Grice – since we know so very little about