October 16, 2005

Omit needless pictures

In Friday's WSJ OpinionJournal, David Gelernter was unhappy about the new illustrated edition of Strunk and White:

Maira Kalman's illustrations are the occasion for the 2005 edition and attendant hoopla. They are a well-meaning mistake.

According to Gerlernter,

The problem with these pictures is their strange relation to the text. A section on pronouns includes a sample sentence that mentions "Polly." On the facing page is a loud, large picture of Polly--who has nothing to do with the topic under discussion. Ms. Kalman's pictures are like a kibitzer's random observations during a conversation among friends.

I'm looking forward to the movie version, myself.

I admit that the book itself is low in dramatic tension, and completely bereft of car chases, but there are some compelling images in the background. I'd gladly pay my $8.50 to see Robin Williams twitching his way through Strunk as described by White:

From every line there peers out at me the puckish face of my professor, his short hair parted neatly in the middle and combed down over his forehead, his eyes blinking incessantly behind steel-rimmed spectacles as though he had just emerged into strong light, his lips nibbling each other like nervous horses, his smile shuttling to and fro under a carefully edged mustache.

Strunk has some good speaking lines as well:

In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself — a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, "Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!"

And so does White:

To me no cause is lost, no level the right level, no smooth ride as valuable as a rough ride, no like interchangeable with as, and no ball game anything but chaotic if it lacks a mound, a box, bases, and foul lines.

More raw material for the screenplay can be found here, and perhaps Geoff Pullum would be available as a consultant.

[By the way -- is it WSJ house style never to use the title "Dr.", or did they just goof in calling the author "Mr. Gelernter"?]

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 16, 2005 02:15 PM