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Statements Put in Positive Form: An Elements of Style Celebration

Last Thursday night, we headed uptown to the Museum of the City of New York for a symposium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of E.B. White‘s revision of William Strunk, Jr.‘s The Elements of Style, moderated by Atlantic columnist Barbara Walraff, with appearances by Roy Blount, Jr. (who brought along a first edition he’d received as a high school graduation present in 1959), Lauren Lipton (whose encounter with the book in high school demonstrated to her the liberating power of grammar), and Roger Rosenblatt (who cheerfully admitted that he’d never actually looked at the book until the morning of the event).

Eventually, the audience was invited to ask its own questions, which we confess to tuning out somewhere around the time somebody demanded to know why school systems didn’t switch from a prescriptivist model of language instruction to a descriptivist—no, wait, we held out until Walraff finally managed to get rid of that person only to have somebody else attempt to launch a debate on the proper use of the relative pronoun. Overall, though, we quite enjoyed the evening—and when it was all done, we caught up with fellow bloggers Anne Fernald (Fernham) and Erika Dreifus (Practicing Writing) and persuaded them to tell us their Strunk and White stories.

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