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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wuthering Heights Shocker!

From a review of Far from the Madding Gerund a book derived from essays from the blog Language Log:

Pullum has special vitriol for Elements of Style, which he calls a "horrid little notebook of nonsense," and debunks a number of Strunk and White's dicta. Take, for example, their insistence on using "that" in restrictive clauses and "which" in nonrestrictive ones. (Say "The house that Jack built is nicer than the one I built," but "The house, which Jack built, is white.") If you substituted "which" for the "that" in the first example, the Elements of Style, Microsoft Word, and the Slate stylebook would flag your choice as an "error"—even though your point would be perfectly clear. Pullum argues that the prohibition is unnecessary. With the help of some electronic book searching, he shows that Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville and, yes, E.B. White all use "which" with restrictive clauses—often. (White, for example, does so in the second paragraph of Stuart Little.) If great writers break a rule frequently and naturally in writing, everyone else follows suit in speech, and doing so creates no confusion, that rule is a waste of everyone's time.

Watch the linguistic smackdown here.

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