Sunday, August 06, 2006

on writing: why i love the chicago manual of style


When you're writing for hire, you think twice about things you typically do while writing that you now realize will garner an editor's scrutiny. For me, one of those things was beginning sentences with "but," which historically I've done with wanton abandon. Some time ago I invested in the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style to assist me with such projects. Feeling a growing sense of angst over my predisposition to begin sentences with conjunctions, this morning I flipped to my index and eventually found words I might have crafted in a daydream:

"There is a widespread belief - one with no historical or grammatical foundation - that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice. Charles Allen Lloyd's 1938 words fairly sum up the situation as it stands even today: 'Next to the groundless notion that it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with 'but' or 'and.' As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctine ever read any English themselves'"(pp. 193,194).

I'm not making this up.

"Sweet freedom whispered in my ears and I fly away."

2 comments:

rick said...

And we prepositions are words you are going to be ending sentences with?

:-)

Stephen said...

:)