Marking time

Marking time in April 2009

Friday 17 April 2009

50 years of Strunk & White

The elements of style (3rd edition, 1979) lurks on the shelf near my dictionaries and style guides. Some of its specific advice on grammar is weird, so it’s not a useful reference book. But as an argument for clarity in writing it’s wonderful.

White’s reworking of William Strunk’s original little book appeared in 1959, and was a publishing hit. Its anniversary has been marked by a new commemorative edition, and a flurry of comment.

A telegram from a college bookstore, ordering more copies of the book, and recording its impact​—​whole campus gone wild.

American National Public Radio broadcast a couple of pieces about the book​—​one laudatory, the other critical. The critical one is an interview with Geoffrey Pullum, whose writings on Lan­guage Log are always good. The elements of style is a regular subject for criticism on Language Log.

While I agree with the language loggers that Strunk and White’s elements of style is flawed, I think that Robert Bringhurst’s el­e­ments of typographic style is a wonderful piece of work and deserves its place beside my bed.

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Saturday 4 April 2009

David Malouf at West End Library

My local public library opened in 1929, and today we marked it’s 80th birthday with a talk by David Malouf, and a birthday cake.

David Malouf speaking to an appreciative group of people upstairs at the library.

Uncle Sam Watson made us welcome and talked about his grandchildren, and about his grandparents, and their grandparents, and their kin. He named the places they belonged to and pointed them out: over there and right here and out in the bay. These are ancient connections that continue into the present, and will last into the future. Sam talked about the kuril, the water rat that used to be common along the river. He said that since dredging of the river had stopped, there were signs the kurilpa were coming back. Good news.

The library’s birthday cake.

David Malouf spoke about growing up in South Brisbane. He was born here in 1935, went to West End State School, and kept up connections here after his family moved to Hamilton in the 1950s. He had personal stories to show that multiculturalism (as he told us) was not something invented in the 1970s as some people thought.

He talked about libraries. He fondly recalled the State Library in William Street, and the South Brisbane Municipal Library (both part of my childhood too). He made special mention of the Workers’ Educational Association library in Trades Hall. Once David had demonstrated his credentials as a union member (of the students’ union) he borrowed many books that were not on the collections of the University of Queensland Library or the State Library; the WEA had continued to buy newly published fiction and poetry through the 1930s and ’40s.

David Malouf and Sam Watson sharing the task of cutting the cake.

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