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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2005 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

In praise of a mangled masterpiece

By David Gelernter


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Sometimes a small issue lights a large landscape like a slash of lightning; for a moment we see society with dazzling clarity. A new edition of "The Elements of Style" has just appeared — "Elements" is the classic writers' handbook by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. The new version starkly illuminates our disrespect for national treasures.


In 1957, White was asked to revise Strunk's decades-old text. White (who had been Strunk's student at Cornell) agreed, and he published two further revisions in 1972 and '79. The result was not merely brilliant, it was beloved: It's never been out of print. White died in 1985. Then the trouble started. A post-mortem revision appeared in 1999; it has just been republished with pictures by Maira Kalman. To mark the new release, a PR volcano erupted. The New York Public Library even staged a musical "Elements." The new version violates what Strunk and White is all about.


The revision was done anonymously. The only new name on the title page is now the illustrator's. And the reviser has been unfaithful to Strunk and White. For starters, he changed White's signed introduction, a short memoir about Strunk — like reworking a Picasso but leaving the signature. He changed lots of other things too.


According to White, Strunk "felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, a man floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain the swamp quickly and get his man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope." The revised version tells us that Strunk felt, on the contrary, "that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get the reader up on dry ground, or at least to throw a rope."


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"At least to throw a rope?" Throw it where? To whom? The phrase is vague bordering on meaningless. And White's "get his man up on dry ground" hints at the author's personal responsibility to his reader. Of course these are details. But White cared passionately about the details that make for good writing.


The reviser clearly disapproves of the indefinite masculine — "he," "man" and so on — to mean anyone. Fine. Except that White believed the exact opposite, and said so in a rule he added to "Elements": "He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances." This very issue caused a sad disagreement toward the end of White's long relationship with the New Yorker, a magazine he more than any other author raised to dizzying literary heights. In 1971, White submitted a piece attacking "gender neutral" writing — and the New Yorker rejected it. Dog rejects bone.


The latest "Elements" includes clunkers like this: "When repeating a statement to emphasize it, the writer may need to vary its form. Otherwise, the writer should follow the principle of parallel construction." Here's the way it was actually written: "When repeating a statement to emphasize it, the writer may need to vary its form. But apart from this he should follow the principle of parallel construction."


New words enter the language all the time, as Strunk and White tell us: "Youth invariably speaks to youth in a tongue of his own devising." A memorable phrase, taut as a piano string: "youth speaks to youth." Here is the new, "improved" version: "Youth invariably speaks to other youths in a tongue of their own devising." Who would have thought these small changes could do so much damage, like a monkey wrench through a plate-glass window?


Adding insult to injury, the illustrated edition includes a page of credits, dedications, copyright notices and so forth — each printed separately and placed on the page at strange angles or upside down. Clever. The word "hello" sprawls across the inside front cover in fancy italics; "thank you," "and," "goodbye" appear on three pages at the end.


"Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute," say Strunk and White.


When the 1999 version resurfaced in fancy dress, the New York literary world should have thrown a fit. Instead, it threw a party. But what gives anyone the right to tamper with a masterpiece? American authors had a good year in 1957. Would anyone have the nerve to publish a revised version of a story by Malamud, Shaw, Updike, Nabokov? Or an essay by Mailer, Podhoretz or White himself? True, the language changes. But why couldn't the reviser's bright ideas have appeared as notes surrounding the unchanged original?


What should we make of literati who claim to treasure "Elements" but don't mind seeing it brutally mangled? And here's the larger problem: A society that has no respect for its literary treasures probably — deep down — has no respect for itself.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.



Yale professor David Gelernter is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem. To comment, please click here.


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© 2005, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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