REVIEW POTPOURRI – E.B. White: The Elements of Style

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

E.B. White

The Elements of Style
(with William Strunk, Jr.), 4th edition – Longman Publishers; 1935, 1959, 1979, 1999; 95 pages.

Although Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985), better known as E.B. White, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the family vacations during his childhood in Maine’s Belgrade Lakes, the routines of farm life and the workings of nature, enriched his own writings. In addition, he spent many years of his adulthood living on, and working, his farm in Brooklin, Maine, near Deer Isle and Stonington. These years, with the many New Yorker contributions, added much.

I hope to devote another column or more in the weeks ahead to White. This week I am focusing on The Elements of Style, a 1935 book on writing by his English professor at Cornell, William Strunk Jr. (1869-1946). White edited and revised extensively, in 1959 and 1979, editions before his own death in 1985. Some extras were tacked on the above 1999 fourth edition by his stepson, Roger Angell, himself a noted writer on baseball and still living in his 99th year.

The 95 pages of content mirror Strunk and White’s commitment to saving teacher and student hard labor yet keeping the book concise and most helpful to anyone who writes lots of words in a week. I offer choice quotations from both men:

“‘Omit needless words’ cries the author on page 23, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself – a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, ‘Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!’ ”

Actually, I have found this book in one or two earlier copies, very edifying for more than 40 years.


Responsible journalism is hard work!
It is also expensive!

If you enjoy reading The Town Line and the good news we bring you each week, would you consider a donation to help us continue the work we’re doing?

The Town Line is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit private foundation, and all donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Service code.

To help, please visit our online donation page or mail a check payable to The Town Line, PO Box 89, South China, ME 04358. Your contribution is appreciated!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *