Strunk vs. White: An Analysis of Authorship

In April, 2009, hoping to improve on an average annual sales rate of 200,000 copies over a span of fifty years, Longman Publishers released a black faux leather-bound, gold-embossed anniversary edition of The Elements of Style. This handsome volume comes adorned with politically correct "gender-fair" language unknown to either of its credited authors and includes several pages of gushing approbation from various public figures past and present, from Dorothy Parker to Ben Affleck, all for $19.95.

Such a spectacle of prescriptivism is bound to draw fire from the academic left. Catherine Prendergast, a self-described "composition scholar", escalates the language war to an unprecedented level of vehemence in her fanciful essay, "The Fighting Style: Reading the Unabomber's Strunk and White", in which she posits that the copy of the manual that "tells us most about [its] legacy" is the one found in Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin.

Taking off on Andy White's fond memory of his Cornell English professor—"Sergeant Strunk snapping orders to his Platoon"—Prendergast solemnly warns us of the mortal danger that attends "Sergeant Strunk's warlike, exhortative style, his up-tempo apocalyptic railings against the paucities of modern life..."

... violence has become the dominant trope through which to understand style .... For this trope we have directly Strunk and White to blame .... Nobody believed in the power of clear, correct prose to right wrongs more than Kaczynski. He wrote clearly and correctly, and then he killed people.
Why, the old sergeant might just as well have planted those bombs with his own hands!

One can only wonder whether Prendergast's treatise might be a piece of mischief. Its author certainly could not have selected a forum more inviting of such a hoax than College English, the prestigious journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). On the other hand, there is no doubt that Geoffrey Pullum meant every word of his scorching commentary, "Fifty Years of Stupid Grammar Advice", which characterizes The Elements as ranging "from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense." Its popularity, Pullum concludes, is "most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents."

It's sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write "however" or "than me" or "was" or "which", but can't tell you why. The land of the free in the grip of The Elements of Style.
The "Fiftieth Anniversary Edition" is actually a repackaging of the fourth edition of 2000, the original printing of which was itself an occasion for the airing of diverse and heartfelt opinions. This has been the only revision since the death of E.B. White in 1985, and is largely a concession to the forces of liberal academia that both authors had steadfastly resisted. As Richard Minear observes in his informative essay, "E.B. White Takes His Leave, or Does He?", "In its first three editions Strunk and White set itself apart because of its personality, its crochets, its humor, its philosophy. The fourth edition rounds off many edges."

Much of the controversial rewriting consists of the systematic redistribution of male and female references. Thus, John Fowles, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Dick Diver give way to Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Molly Bloom. White's variation on the old Winston jingle, Chloe smells good, like a little girl should becomes Chloe smells good, like a baby should. To hell with cadence, when feminist sensibilities are at risk! Similarly, in deference to the gay reader, Robert Frost's line My little horse must think it queer/ To stop without a farmhouse near is rewritten as My little horse must think it not right/ To stop without a farmhouse in sight.

The reader my be forgiven for being momentarily taken in by the last sentence, but the only concession to homosexuality to be found (as pointed out by Minear) is the substitution of Sappho of Lesbos for Pliny the Younger. Nor is there any acknowledgment of any minority ethnic group. In fact, a first edition reference to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was ultimately replaced by a nod to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The contributors to the fourth edition may also be forgiven, for choosing to remain anonymous. (Roger Angell, White's stepson, signed the foreword but otherwise accepts no credit for its contents.) On their behalf, Longman Senior Vice President Joseph Opiela admits to having succumbed to the tyranny of the NCTE, though not in just those words: "While we did not want to sacrifice any of the subtle humor in these examples, we updated some to be more modern and inclusive, and revised individual sentences to adhere to the NCTE guidelines on the use of pronouns." * It is easy to criticize the decision, but just as easy to appreciate the commercial pressure that made it difficult to avoid. The overbearing lunacy that the publishers felt obliged to accommodate is perhaps best articulated by Jodi Lundgren, a professor of English for whom the revisions of the fourth edition were too little, too late. For Lundgren, the very presumption that English usage is a domain in which constructive advice may be offered amounts to a "deligitimizing of certain speech patterns [that] works to justify and naturalize class stratification and class-based prejudice." Furthermore, she tells us, Strunk's dislike for the phrase student body together with White's urging the reader, "Do not personalize your prose; simply make it good and keep it clean", betrays a preoccupation with "concerns with controlling the body and with cleanliness", which "further a class agenda in which student writers are portrayed as the unwashed masses."

But of course, the most grievous offenses are those committed against feminism, and there is more than a little residual sexism to be found in the fourth edition. The tone is set by White's observation, reproduced from his introduction to the 1979 edition, that Strunk's advice "still seems to maintain its original poise, standing, in a drafty time, erect, resolute, and assured." Here the authors' dubious agenda is advanced, Lundgren asserts, "by linking grammar to deeper moral issues and by emphasizing virility."

Proper grammar can combat moral waywardness, especially of a sexual nature. ... The evil to be avoided is construed as feminine: "do not prettify"; "avoid ... the coy, the cute". ... The feminine is thus construed as morally wayward and emotionally shallow in sample sentences such as "Her father's suspicions proved well-founded. It was not Edward she cared for, it was San Francisco."
Finally, our attention is drawn to White's reference to a cow in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson: "Like the steadfast writer, she is at home in the wind and the rain ...." The objection to this line— which the editors of the fourth edition failed to anticipate, or they surely would have changed the sex of the animal—is that the writer is male and the subject is not:
In Strunk and White schema, a "she" can at best be "like" a writer; she is excluded from actually writing (and indeed from being human).
Lundgren makes a strong case, but in the interest of fairness, it should be noted that women are not the only group, or sex, for that matter, with a ligitimate grievance. On the same page that contains the condescending reference to Edward's opportunistic lover is another equally offensive sample sentence: "His first thought on getting out of bed—if he had any thought at all—was to get back in again." Can this be construed as anything but a categorical condemnation of men as lazy and stupid?

While opinions of The Elements of Style tend to be extreme, to say the least, the novel view espoused here is that "the little book", as its first author liked to call it, is neither the salvation of Western civilization nor the root of all contemporary evil. Our objective, however, is not an evaluation of its overall merit, but rather an analysis of its authorship. Although the authors are generally treated, by fans and detractors alike, as interchangeable collaborators, their contributions are quite distinct, dissimilar in quality, and sometimes antithetical in purpose.

Much of the criticism that has been leveled at Strunk and White is motivated either by personal issues faced by their critics or by some broader political objective, and does not begin to address the worth of the work itself as a manual of usage and style. Those complaints that actually pertain to the book's contents, we shall argue, should generally be directed at White alone, who was no less guilty than his editorial successors of violating the authorial integrity of his predecessor.

Iilliam Strunk, Jr. was a lifelong student and teacher of language. As a graduate student at Cornell, he pursued a broad program in the history and development of language, literature, drama, and poetry, acquiring expertise in Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Sanskrit, Icelandic, and Old Bulgarian. Upon completion of his Ph.D., he spent a year of post-doctoral research at the Sorbonne, focusing on the history of French grammar and literature, morphology of low Latin, and comparative philology. After returning to Cornell, Strunk taught courses in drama, poetry, Old English, Chaucer, Shakespeare, composition, and English usage and style. *

The Elements of Style was the product of a disciplined and scholarly mind, based on a systematic study of rhetoric, form, and logic, refined and perfected through three decades of college teaching. It was originally intended as no more than a classroom aid, as stated in its introduction:

This book aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated. ... The experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory, which he may prefer to that offered by any textbook. *
It was not Strunk's position that his rules were inviolable, to be slavishly followed by his students or anyone else:
It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, obtained at the cost of the violation. *
These rules, then, are provided merely as a starting point for the novice, just as a tennis instructor may insist that the beginner master the basic groundstrokes before experimenting with the slice or volley.

The first edition of The Elements was privately printed by Professor Strunk in 1918 for his own use in the classroom. In 1920, a revised edition was commercially published for the benefit of like-minded teachers, but there is no evidence that it found any use outside of Cornell. *

E.B. White was a writer. His talent was apparent in Strunk's English composition class of 1919, and he went on to become an accomplished literary essayist, prose stylist, and story teller.

Some forty years after attending Strunk's class, the student was reminded of his professor and published an essay about him in The New Yorker magazine, to which he was a regular contributor. This caught the attention of Jack Case, an editor with the Macmillan Company, who contacted White and asked him to assist in a reprinting of the little book with the essay included as an introduction. White should have done just that. Instead, he undertook an extensive revision of Strunk's work, a task for which he proved to be unsuited.

White apparently had no intention of compromising the substance of the book. In response to Case's suggestion that he soften the tone to appease a certain segment of the academic community, he wrote, "I cannot, and will-shall not, attempt to adjust the unadjustable Mr. Strunk to the modern liberal of the English Department, the anything-goes fellow." * However, in spite of his admiration for Strunk and his methods, White's own approach to his art was quite different—he believed in "writing a thing first and thinking about it afterward." * As he later admitted, "I felt uneasy about posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, always with difficulty and seldom with any exact notion of what is taking place under the hood." * Clearly, he managed to overcome this uneasiness.

The first edition of the revised manual known as "Strunk and White", bearing a title page that reads "The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. With Revisions, an Introduction, and a New Chapter on Style by E.B. White", was released in 1959 to the college market and the general trade. Apparently emboldened by the commercial success of this initial effort, White incorporated further revisions in two subsequent editions of 1972 and 1979.

A lesser known version of The Elements, a collaboration between Strunk and Edward Tenney, a junior Cornell colleague, was published in 1934. Although it bears the same title, this edition is substantially different in character from the original, sharing only parts of several sections. (A reasonable supposition is that Strunk otherwise had no hand in writing it.) Accordingly, subsequent printings (1935 and 1936) were released under the new title The Elements and Practice of Composition. This book was apparently known to White—the 1959 edition contains a reference to it, but no evidence of its influence. This is just as well, as it lacks the balance of conviction, discernment, and humor that characterizes the original—as Minear observes, it "accentuates the negatives of the first edition and eliminates many of its positives"—and is perhaps best forgotten.

Most of the forty-three pages that make up Strunk 1918 are devoted to three chapters: "Elementary Rules of Usage", "Elementary Principles of Composition", and "Words and Expressions Commonly Misused", consisting of eight rules, ten principles, and forty-nine examples, respectively. In the expanded 1920 edition of fifty-two pages, one of the rules (pertaining to syllabication) is subjugated to a minor chapter on form, and sixteen words and expressions are added; otherwise, the structure is preserved.

White's 1959 revision produced seventy-one pages of text, which eventually grew to eighty-five in 1979. His modifications of the first chapter are more subtle than those of the other two, but no less significant. Consider the section on Rule 5, "Do not join independent clauses by a comma." In Strunk and White (1972), the rule is elaborated as follows.

If two or more clauses grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.
After struggling to parse this sentence, one wonders why commas were not employed in the obvious way to achieve clarity. In fact, this is what we find in Strunk's original text:
If two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.
Why would Strunk's coauthor take pains to render the sentence unreadable? Apparently, he is applying a corollary of Rule 3, "Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas". As Strunk reminds us, this does not apply to restrictive relative clauses, which are generally not set off by commas. White adds to this, "The same rule of comma use applies to participial phrases and to appositives." Thus, restrictive phrases in general do not require commas. The rule itself is fine as long as one knows, as Strunk did, when to admit an exception.

White's next contribution, occurring in the same section, is similarly subtle. Two illustrations of the rule under discussion are faithfully reproduced from the original:

Stevenson's romances are entertaining; they are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.
As Strunk observes,
It is, of course, equally correct to write these as two sentences each, replacing the semicolons with periods.
But White (1979) offers an improvement.
It is, of course, equally correct to write each of these as two sentences, replacing the semicolons with periods.
There is no telling what he hoped to accomplish with the relocation of each, but whatever his reason, in view of the subject matter, one would have expected him to be careful enough to adjust the participial phrase accordingly to read "replacing the semicolon with a period."

Next we come to Rule 6, "Do not break sentences in two".

It is permissible to make an emphatic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly:
Again and again he called out. No reply.
The writer must, however, be certain that the emphasis is warranted, lest his clipped sentence seem merely a blunder in syntax or in punctuation.
Fair enough. But to this White adds,
Generally speaking, the place for broken sentences is in dialogue, when a character happens to speak in a clipped or fragmentary way.
Where to begin?
  1. The addendum is an irrelevant distraction from the point at hand. We are well aware that an author's responsibility regarding the rules of sentence structure is waived in the reporting of dialogue.
  2. Does White mean to draw a distinction between clipped and fragmentary, or is he just unable to settle on the right adjective? Is this an example of needless words in need of omission?
  3. One could not ask for a more vulgar violation of the final rule of the chapter: "A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject." Certainly idiom allows exceptions to the rule, but this is one to be avoided, except perhaps in an informal setting; speaking in this context is yet another needless word.

In the 1979 edition, toward the end of the chapter, four new rules are added to Strunk's original seven. Of these, the two that deal with punctuation (proper use of the colon and the dash) are harmless enough, except insofar as their triviality dilutes the central message of the virtues of conciseness and brevity. The other two offer some welcome advice pertaining to subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement, but include some unfortunate choices, two of which Pullum has already pounced upon.

Under his Rule 9, "The number of the subject determines the number of the verb", White takes the trouble to prescribe a singular verb form after a singular indefinite pronoun, as in Everybody thinks he has a unique sense of humor, as if a native speaker might be prone to violate this principle. The more likely error, which White undoubtedly has in mind, is the substitution in this sentence of they have for he has. As Pullum observes, "White is grinding two different axes, and has mixed them up here."

As an illustration of Rule 10, "Use the proper case of pronoun", we find the grammatically unassailable sentence "The culprit, it turned out, was he." This brings to mind Follett's remark on a related issue:

Writers and other persons whose devotion to sound grammar could be shown by the evidence of print, and who would prove it again by other deeds in any civil war with the linguistic anarchists, are nonetheless firm in believing that the colloquial It's me is acceptable in speech and in writing when the tone is not elevated. *
Here White has given aid and comfort to the enemy by taking an imprudently strong stand on an issue that is open to legitimate disagreement, a blunder that Strunk was always careful to avoid. And Pullum exploits it to his advantage:
Any suggestion that this is normal style in the 21st century would of course be absurd. But it is fairly clear that it would not have been normal even in 1918 (especially in the informal style suggested by the parenthetical `it turned out'). ... How could anyone justify teaching American undergraduates a hundred years later to write anything like the culprit was he? Like having on the statute books an ancient law that is no longer enforced, it brings the law into disrepute. And there is always the chance that some lunatic might try to actually [sic] use it. *
Under the same rule, White addresses the issue of choosing between participle and gerund:
Do you mind me asking a question?

Do you mind my asking a question?
In the first sentence, the queried objection is to me, as opposed to other members of the group, asking a question. In the second example, the issue is whether a question may be asked at all.
Once again, Professor Strunk is rolling over in his grave, but now in the other direction. White's analysis is sheer nonsense. The objection is to the asking of the question, regardless of whether that objection is based on the identity of the asker or not. Consequently, me cannot legitimately replace asking as the direct object of mind, as it does in the first sentence. (See "Participle for verbal noun" below, and see FUSED PARTICIPLE for further discussion of this point.)

"Words and Expressions Commonly Misused", being largely a reflection of current trends, naturally underwent more change during the White administration than the other chapters. By 1979, he had deleted thirteen of Strunk's sixty-five entries and added seventy-one of his own. Several of the thirteen may have been eliminated because they had fallen out of use: Don't (for doesn't), Oftentimes (for often), and Whom (for who, as in The man whom he thought was his friend). Others disappeared presumably because they had gained acceptability: Near by (for close by), Viewpoint (for point of view), and Would (for should, as in I would not have succeeded without his help). To his credit, White managed to retain such entries as Different than (for different from), Data (as singular), and They (as singular), which he might have chosen to abandon as lost causes.

Among the other deleted entries are two rather interesting objections voiced by Strunk: one to the neologism dependable ("A needless substitute for reliable, trustworthy") and another to phase, when misused to mean aspect rather than stage of development. These observations are now lost forever to a world that thinks that Struck and White really were coauthors.

Similarly, most of the new entries are expressions that came into vogue after Strunk's time: Disinterested (for uninterested), Enthuse (a back formation from enthusiasm), Facility (for jail, hospital, school, etc.), Irregardless (for regardless or irrespective), Meaningful ("A bankrupt adjective"), etc. Hopefully made its appearance in the 1972 edition, only after it had been exposed by Bernstein (1965) and Follett (1966).

Perhaps the most noteworthy of the new entries is That [vs.] Which, which contains nothing original, however, other than the insipid term which-hunting. The distinction between that and which in introducing defining and non-defining relative clauses was, of course, a Fowler innovation, and White's discussion is essentially extracted from Modern English Usage, with no mention of the source. However, while Fowler made clear that he was presenting a proposal for linguistic engineering rather than a ruling on correctness, White's discussion assumes the tone of a strict prescription, thereby further fueling the rage of linguistic anarchy.

Several of the entries that appear in all versions exhibit interesting variations. The "Split infinitive" is "for the most part avoided by careful writers" from 1918 through 1959, but in later editions it becomes acceptable when "the writer wishes to place unusual stress on the adverb."

The 1918 entry on "People" contains a curious paragraph:

The word people is not to be used with words of number, in place of persons. If of "six people" five went away, how many would be left?
Strunk apparently caught the fallacy in his argument (asking himself, perhaps, "How could I have been such a geese?") and deleted it in 1920. White, however, (although it is clear that the later edition was his primary source) dredged up this unfortunate slip and included it in all three of his editions, along with the solution, for the benefit of the slow-witted reader: "Answer: one people."

"Participle for verbal noun" is another that underwent some change. In the 1920 edition, Do you mind me asking a question? is given as an example of the violation. White, however, as discussed above, made the baffling decision to move this sentence to the Rule 10 section and present it as an acceptable construction. In his general treatment of the issue, Strunk acknowledged his debt to the Fowler brothers, who had already treated the topic thoroughly in The King's English. (Note that Strunk's little book preceded MEU but not KE.) White's only other contribution to this section was to delete the acknowledgment.

Most of the damage to Strunk's "Elementary Principles of Composition" is relatively minor. His taste for classics has been overrruled: two verses of Browning's My Last Duchess are replaced by a passage from Jean Stafford's In the Zoo; Carlyle and Thackeray by Faulkner and Forster; and Jim Hawkins, David Balfour, and Nostromo by Walter Mitty, Dick Diver, and Rabbit Angstrom. Most sections have undergone some tweaking of questionable value. Strunk's most famous section, "Omit Needless Words", which White has described as "a short, valuable essay on the nature and beauty of brevity", might be expected to have been left intact; it was not.

Which of the following pairs of phrases does not belong in the list?

the question as to whether

there is no doubt but that

used for fuel purposes

he is a man who

in a hasty manner

this is a subject that

his story is a strange one

the reason why is that
whether (the question whether)

no doubt (doubtless)

used for fuel



this subject

his story is strange


In each of the first seven lines, devised by Strunk, the phrase on the left contains unnecessary words and can be replaced by the phrase on the right with positive effect. The last was gratuitously added by White, who seems to have missed the point entirely. (Try replacing the reason why is that, in a sentence in which it naturally occurs, with because.)

But surely White does not miss the central point of the section. What, then, is he thinking when he replaces "As positive statement is more concise than negative, ..." with "As a positive statement is more concise than a negative one, ..." or "A common violation of conciseness ..." with "A common way to fall into wordiness ..."? But this is his modus operandi: gratuitous, careless editing.

As White reported in a letter to his editor (11/3/58), "The first two sections of the `Composition' chapter sustained the heaviest attack; I felt that they were narrow and bewildering. (In their new form they are merely bewildering.)[sic]" Strunk's two sections on paragraph structure are combined into one and preceded by a new section with the heading "Choose a suitable design and stick to it", which is indeed anything but narrow. Unfortunately, it fails to offer any useful advice, telling us only that all writing requires a basic structural design, except that sometimes the best design is no design, and that some forms of composition are more clearly defined than others.

This section on design is a prelude to White's most substantial contribution to the book: an entirely new chapter titled "An Approach to Style", which opens with this paragraph:

Up to this point, the book has been concerned with what is correct, or acceptable, in the use of English. In this final chapter, we approach style in its broader meaning: style in the sense of what is distinguished and distinguishing. Here we leave solid ground. Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind? Who knows why certain notes in music are capable of stirring the listener deeply, though the same notes slightly rearraged are impotent? There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may shape his course.
There is no inflexible rules? Apparently not. *

The chapter rambles on in this vein for twenty pages (of a now not-so-little book), offering such useless and annoying advice as "Be clear", "Avoid fancy words", "Revise and rewrite", "Do not explain too much", "Do not inject opinion" ("unless there is a good reason for it"), and "Avoid foreign languages" (unless you "find it convenient or necessary"). The author's characterization of the chapter is puzzling: the essential difference between "Omit needless words" and "Be clear" is not that one is a strict rule of composition and the other a subjective matter of style, but rather that the first is a pithy and valuable principle, clarified by examples, by which every novice writer may benefit, while the second is merely a truism, offered with no clue to how it might be implemented.

The added chapter is at best redundant with Strunk's "Elementary Principles of Composition" and at worst overbearing, diffuse, and nonsensical. What little of it is of any value and in keeping with the rest of the book might be moved to the earlier chapter; the rest is an incoherent distraction, in violation of Strunk's theme of brevity and precision.

Iow does E.B. White compare with Fowler's infamous grave robbers? Clearly, Robert Burchfield, who showed nothing but contempt for his unwitting coauthor, is in a league by himself. But White's net contribution to William Strunk's original work, like that of Ernest Gowers to Fowler's, is undeniably negative. Although White was perhaps more strongly committed than Gowers to preserving the character and idiosyncrasies of his predecessor's work, he was also less competent in the execution of his good intentions.

The Elements of Style remains a useful guide in spite of White's role, but his errors and distortion of the original text detract from its value and leave it vulnerable to attack from the enemies of linguistic standards. As Pullum observes, "So it is White's own view of Elements that all of the first four chapters concern the `solid ground' of grammatical correctness and acceptability rather than style per se." * This view, which is indeed expressed in White's appended chapter, is grossly inaccurate and at odds with Strunk's dictum that "the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric", which he continually demonstrated in his own writing, using the passive voice to advantage and inserting unnecessary words to add color. It also lends support to Pullum's conclusion:

English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don't-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can't even tell when they've broken their own misbegotten rules.
As the evidence shows, however, there is only one bumbler in the pair.

Syndicated columnist Chris Redgate asked, in reaction to the unauthorized fourth edition, "What would Strunk and White say? Who knows? But how would you like it if someone changed your words and put your name on the result in order to make an extra buck?" * It is fair to put the last question to E.B. White himself. *

In his preface to the 1959 edition, White insists that the editing was not his idea: "They asked me to make revisions in the text and write a chapter on style, and I have done both things." An early letter to Case (7/29/57), however, reveals that the publisher's original intention was to leave Strunk's text intact and include White's New Yorker essay as an introduction, and that as the project progressed, White demanded a broader role: "I may even have a bit more to say on the subject of rhetoric, now that I am suddenly faced with this unexpected audience." While it is true that Strunk is indebted to his coauthor for the gift of immortality, he would have been better served if White had merely inserted his introduction as proposed and collected his royalties.

Although blind to most of the damage that he had done, White was at least aware that his maundering chapter on style significantly altered the character of the book. In a subsequent letter (11/3/58), he assured his editor that "The foreword will make clear that this chapter is my work, not Strunk's, and that my professor might, if alive, heartily disapprove of every word of it." In fact, an abated version of this acknowledgment appears in the introduction to the 1959 edition: "Professor Strunk, it must be clearly understood, had no part in this escapade, and I have no way of knowing whether he would approve." By 1972, however, White had apparently convinced himself otherwise, and the disclaimer was retracted altogether, leaving only the following self-indulgent assurance:

Somewhat audaciously, and in an attempt to give my publisher his money's worth, I added a chapter called "An Approach to Style," setting forth my own prejudices, my notions of error, my articles of faith. This chapter (Chapter V) is addressed particularly to those who feel that English prose composition is not only a necessary skill but a sensible pursuit as well—a way to spend one's days. I think Professor Strunk would not object to that.
With the admitted disadvantage of not having known Professor Strunk personally, I think he would have told Mr. White to write his own little book.