Strunk and White: The Reason We Hate the Grammar-Checking Tool?

By Brian Kumnick on April 15, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lawyers do a lot of writing, and many, starting in their undergrad days, accumulate an assortment of writing guides to provide them with advice on proper grammar and good style.  Over time, guides specific to legal writing tend to dominate the lawyer-writer's reference shelf, but the starting point for many people who are getting serious about writing well is William Strunk and E.B. White's The Elements of Style.  Fifty years old this month, the little book has long been praised as a concise and elegant guide to the rules of grammar and to achieving clear writing.

Not by everyone, though.  In the Chronicle of Higher Education this month, Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh unloads with both barrels on "grammatical incompetents" Strunk and White for what he alleges are the book's numerous failures to correctly state the rules of grammar.  He goes further to claim that Elements itself contains many examples of the authors blatantly violating many of their own rules.  Coming in for particular criticism is the book's treatment of the passive voice, which according to Pullum, Strunk and White neither understood nor properly articulated rules for.

It all may seem arcane and boring to some, but anyone who's read an open comment thread on, well, any blog ever is aware that the Internet has a healthy population of grammar police, who will no doubt enjoy the debate.  As will lawyers.  Lawyers love grammar because grammar is just like law: technical, complex, full of exceptions, and always susceptible to interpretation.  Let the arguments begin.
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