October 27, 2014

When to Use the First Person

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Some novice writers hesitate to use the first person, as if it's too informal for any type of writing. But the first-person is appropriate in a lot situations. Here's how to make the call.

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My Favorite Line from Strunk and White
Posted by June on October 27, 2014

 

I’m on record as saying some not-nice things about Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style.”

All my criticisms boil down to the same problem: This book is not what people think it is. It’s not what marketers and publishers present it as. This book, which is marketed as timeless wisdom for the masses, is really just a list of rules for students of one English professor about a century ago, offering instructions on how to turn in papers in that particular class.

Imagine a teacher put together a list of rules on, say, classroom conduct that included the imperative “Don’t chew gum,” then 100 years later people were running around thinking no one should ever chew gum because doing so is “wrong.”

That’s the problem with “The Elements of Style.” Half its advice is great, half is either obsolete or impertinent or too broadly worded. Yet millions of people think it’s authoritative.

But it can be a great source to quote. Traditionalists love it, so when the book disagrees with the traditionalist view, it carries that much more weight. And of all the Strunk and White quotes that buck the traditionalist view, this is my favorite.

And would you write “The worst tennis player around here is I” or “The worst tennis player around here is me”? The first is good grammar, the second is good judgment

Not only is the guide telling writers to break a grammar rule, but it does so in a sentence that starts with “and.” After this pithy entry, the authors add that “‘me’ might not do in all contexts.” So they’re not saying "me" is fine all the time. They're saying that sometimes  you just have to get real.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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