Celebrating the Elements of Style…and Tollbooths
Teaching a course that satisfies the ABA’s “rigorous writing experience” has caused me to pause and remember the following exhortation from my mother, an eighth-grade English teacher: “Bad grammar is like spinach between your teeth: No one hears what you’re saying because they are staring at the spinach.” In hopes of cutting down on the amount of spinach, I have required that students purchase The Bluebook and The Redbook, which admittedly starts to sound a bit like a legal Dr. Seuss rhyme. I have also encouraged them to purchase Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style, with its enthusiastic support for brevity, the active voice, and the serial comma. I would greatly appreciate thoughts on other resources that professors have found helpful when trying to insert writing skills into an upper-level seminar, especially when facing tight time constraints.
Thinking of instilling a love of words in younger generations, a delightful piece in this week’s New Yorker on the fiftieth birthday of The Phantom Tollbooth brought back fond memories of reading about King Azaz the Unabridged who held a banquet where guests literally ate their words. The author, however, rightly points out one concern about the book’s durability: “We’re getting rid of all our tollbooths! Kids are going to read the book and ask, Yeah, but what’s a tollbooth?”