It’s reminiscing time, and a high school friend (EP) just sent me this blurb in an email today:
I teach college-level writing, and was looking over an old American classic of writing instruction, the little white paperback called Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.
And this memory came back: The two of us found a stack of these in a Southwestern classroom, maybe Robie’s debate classroom, and we started to joke about it. I can still hear you say in your accented voice from back then, “If you ain’t got style, you ain’t got nothing!”
Rather than responding to him in an email, I thought I’d write this post instead.
Behind my desk is a bookshelf, and the second shelf down is my “writing shelf.” There are dictionaries, a thesaurus, grammar guides (which I still need on a regular basis), handbook, vocabulary builders (the old Word Smart), a couple of rhyming dictionaries so I can whip out a quick poem now and then. Right from the middle I pulled out my trusty old Strunk and White classic that my friend refers to above. It is copyrighted 1979, I paid $2.25 for it (the faded stamp is still in there), so I must have bought it some years after high school.
English is my third language. I still have a discernible accent, but it’s usually not identified as German, which I generally accept as a compliment. My German language development stopped at age 18, so I only have the German language skills and vocabulary of a teenager. But I remember owning a Stilfibel (Handbook of Style) by Ludwig Reiners, which is definitely the equivalent of Strunk and White in the German language.
There is a box of books in my garage, labeled “languages,” which contains dictionaries for Japanese, Latin, French, Spanish and German and many other foreign-language related books, text books, and the like. I believe my original copy of the Stilfibel is still in that box, but I haven’t opened it for decades. Goodness, I would need it if I had to write anything in German today. I am sure my English vocabulary is ten times the size of my native German one by now, and it’s still growing. I still look up words – like “opacity” as elevated by American current events in the last few days.
I try to keep my language skills up, because, after all — if you ain’t got style, you ain’t got nothin’.