Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rolling Back the Storm's Scroll

I have become a convert to each and all of the superstitions Bryan Garner lists in The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style -- or I should say, I am happy to repudiate any worries I've entertained over these points of usage:

  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.
  • Never split an infinitive.
  • Never split a verb phrase.
  • Never begin a sentence with and or but. I have been wiping my prose-making butt with this rule for ages, and if you look carefully, you see that the USA's founders wiped their prose-making butts the same way, and did so in the text of the US Constitution.
  • Never write a one-sentence paragraph.
  • Never begin a sentence with because.
  • Never use since to mean because. Combining these last two yields the corollary superstition that you shouldn't begin a sentence with since.
  • Never use between with more than two objects. I admit I still feel this one in my gut when it is violated -- talk of "the choice between tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and lemonade" seems wrong, and not only because beer should be a choice. I'll get over it.
  • Never use I and me. Without these words, I would have a difficult time writing about myself, and then what would I write about?
  • Never use contractions. I considered listing each of these superstitions followed by a breach of each, but this one broke me of the idea. It's just too easy.
  • Never use you in referring to the reader. This is another one that still haunts peaceful moments I try for.
With Bryan Garner my stand-in for god -- no doubt that's what he has always aimed for -- and writing standing in for the house, I quote Herman Melville, who also broke useless rules freely in and beyond "The Lightning-Rod Man":
I stand at ease in the hands of my God. False negotiator, away! See, the scroll of the storm is rolled back; the house is unharmed; and in the blue heavens I read in the rainbow, that the Deity will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth."
That's putting matters a little histrionically, but the point remains: you don't need these superstitions or any others.

2 comments:

Domestically Challenged said...

My writing style stems from prep-school rebellion. I make it my mission to break as many of those old-school rules as possible... though I tend to draw the line at ending a sentence with a preposition.

One must have standards, after all.

Dale said...

DC, it's true one must have standards, but they do tend to slow things down. ;-)