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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Steven Pinker · 5 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
From the author of Enlightenment Now, a short and entertaining book on the modern art of writing well by New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker. Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care? In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the twenty-first century, Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose. In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical knowhow, and an ability to savor and reverse engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish. Filled with examples of great and gruesome prose, Pinker shows us how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right.
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Pinker's is longer but still focused and very good.

The Elements of Style was fine for me as a first peek into the subject in junior high; it's just as a kind of bible that it's overrated.

+1 for Sense of Style. I found Elements of Style to be very strict. The grammatical rules were portrayed as black/white so you are either correct in its use or you are wrong. I also felt that the guidelines somewhat do not apply to contemporary modes of communication for example email, IM, a casual note. Sense of style was very forgiving in grammar. The focus was on getting the message communicated. This, has helped me immensely as somebody who learned English as secondary language in school. Haven't had chance to gift it but highly recommended.
The author of the submitted, um, article (blog post) didn't cover all the ground that could be covered on this issue, because it was an off-hand post. The previous comments here on Hacker News prompt me to bring up one more issue: even if we follow tradition and call "the" an "article" (as I was taught at some point in my schooling), we have the interesting situation that some languages, even in the Indo-European language family, have no expressed definite article at all. Latin didn't have one, and Russian doesn't have one. Definite reference in Latin, in Russian, and in many non-Indo-European languages (all the various Sinitic languages that are jointly called "Chinese" immediately come to mind) is indicated by means other than a dedicated word such as "the." Because languages can do perfectly well without words like "the" and "a" as those words are used as articles in English, perhaps it is not so shocking that modern grammarians prefer different category names for those words.

My eighth grade English class was innovative in that it used a textbook based on phrase-structure transformational grammar to teach me a lot of my English grammar. I would be glad to see books like that (modernized based on further linguistic research since the 1960s when the book was published) used in classrooms today. The "traditional" grammar poorly taught in the United States is based on an Indo-European grammatical tradition that is not completely lousy for teaching native speakers of Latin how to read and write Greek, but it has never been well suited for teaching analysis of English to native speakers or foreign-language learners of English. English has many grammatical features that are poorly described by the grammatical traditional of school lessons in English-speaking countries.

For further reading on this point, see Steven Pinker's excellent new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.[1] For a better than average treatment of this point on Wikipedia, see the article "English language,"[2] which was updated to "good article" status during the most recent Wikipedia Core Contest, and is actually pretty decent for a Wikipedia article, with lots of references to good-quality reference books about the English language.



There's a chapter on this in Steven Pinker's English style book. You might enjoy it.

Reminds me of Steven Pinker's recently-published book on how to write well, "The Sense of Style" [1]

Pinker uses software terms to describe good writing: convert a _web_ of ideas into a _tree_ of syntax into a _string_ of words.


I just read Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style" and found it to be an excellent resource on this topic.

From that text

“A coherent text is one in which the reader always knows which coherence relation holds between one sentence and the next.”

Sage advice indeed.

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