Code, Refactoring, Communication, and The Art of Personal Expression - or - What Strunk and White Don't Get
Update: As I pointed out in a follow-up comment to Woof, one of the things I absolutely love about blogging is that is encourages interaction and communication on important subject matter that would otherwise not take place if the medium did not exist. Often times I find myself having to reevaluate my position on any given subject matter because someone has forced me to do just that via a blog post they’ve written or via a follow-up comment to one of my own blog posts. Such is the case I am currently faced with,
But I groan over this particular post because you generally attack rules of clear writing, which is all S&W (and others like them) are trying to promote, with a class of “hey, man, WHO’S TO TELL ME” middle-fingered hubris.
Of course, as I pointed out in another follow-up,
Put this way your position becomes quite a bit more clear. And I can’t help but agree with your point.
… which is absolutely the situation I am currently left pondering. That doesn’t mean I believe the content of this post is no longer relevant, and instead that there is certainly more to this than meets the eye, a fact of which is forcing me to reevaluate my overall position.
Of course, life could be worse. I could go around thinking that my viewpoints were always and without a doubt the correct viewpoints and that everyone else who disagreed was, in fact, wrong. If there is one thing I have learned in life it’s that you don’t *ever* want to be “that guy.”
Thanks for helping me realize the flaws in my argument, Woof! Still thinking through this a bit, but once I have I’ll provide a follow-up comment with the results of my reevaluation.
Update: via Piers Hollot we have ourselves a new quote-of-the-day, week, month, and possibly even year,
To their credit, messrs Strunk and White had no way of knowing that semicolons, hyphens and parentheses could also function as winking faces.
*YES*! :D Thanks for the laugh, Piers! :D
Coding Horror: Google’s Number One UI Mistake
Strunk and White urged us to Omit Needless Words:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
If you were to ask me who I believe to be the greatest writer of our era, that answer would be immediate and definitive,
Of course I doubt Strunk and White would agree. “Too wordy. Too much personal expression. Too much social and political undercurrent. Too much. Too much. TOO MUCH!” would of course be five too many too’s for Strunk and White’s liking.
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
Of course if this were truly the case, there would be no need for erasers. In fact, there would be no need for pencils. Everything would simply be written in permanent ink.
In the same sense, there would be no need for code refactoring tools and there would only be one programming language. I mean, why mess around with Ruby or Python when you can write everything in assembly, or better yet, machine!
Hell, for that matter there would probably only be one spoken language if Strunk and White had things their way. Why waste our time describing things differently than someone else when it’s much more efficient to describe them exactly the same way as everyone else? With such efficiency we could spend less of our time communicating and more of our time…
– doing —
… Hmmm, I don’t know… Staring at the wall? Watching the paint dry? Or would the paint already be dry in such a world? For that matter, why even paint the wall! What’s wrong with the wall the way it was in the first place?! In fact, why do we even have walls! It’s just wasted space!
Of course, in an efficient world such as this that has no need for walls and with such efficiency in our written and spoken languages I’m not exactly sure what we do with our time. But we’d have plenty of time to do whatever it is we wouldn’t be doing, that’s for certain! ;-)
Hey Strunk and White**, here’s some elements for your style: As hard as it would obviously be to actually submit to, go to your local library or favorite offline or online retailer and pick up a Tom Robbins novel. I’d personally recommend Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas or Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. Then again, Jitterbug Perfume or Skinny Legs and All are both excellent works of literary art, as are each and every one of his other titles.
Oh, and while you’re at it, take a week off and go visit the Louvre. It’s a beautiful, wonderful, and thought provoking place filled with LOTS and LOTS of lines. No, not those kinds of lines. These kind,
** Yes, I’m aware of the fact that William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White are both dead.
NOTE: I should also point out that I have always found,
This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
… to be a pathetic attempt at saving face. By who’s definition makes the determination as to what words are necessary to *tell* a story, and what words are not? Theirs? Yours? Mine? Which, of course, in and of itself is the entire point,
One mans trash is another womans treasure. This same rule can be applied to *ANYTHING* and *EVERYTHING*. If you don’t like it. Don’t read it. But don’t tell others how to define what is trash and what is treasure…
*They* can make that determination on *their* own.