ITauthor podcast #28 – Professor Geoffrey Pullum and the Elements of Style

April 25th, 2009   7 Comments






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Professor Geoffrey Pullum, Professor of Linguistics at University of Edinburgh, recently wrote an article called ‘50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice’ in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Strunk and White’s Element of Style.

I visited Professor Pullum in his office in a beautiful new university building in the heart of Edinburgh to talk to him about his article and to discuss grammar and technical writing.

Among other things, we talk about:

  • the split infinitive
  • “none of us are” or “none of us is”?
  • that and which
  • the view of grammar as commandments brought down from the Grammar Mountain
  • the pressure to enforce grammar rules, even when you don’t believe them
  • why do most of us know so little about grammar?
  • if we shouldn’t use Strunk & White, where should we go for grammar advice?
  • nerdview

We also mentioned Professor Pullum’s talk at last year’s UA Conference Europe:
The Piranha Brothers, the Unwritten Grammatical Law, and the Phenomenon of Nerdview,
which is well worth reading if you find this interview interesting.

Related recordings:

Related blog posts:

Other links:

The music I play at the beginning and end of the show is by Amplifico. You can hear more of their music at Podshow.

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  1. User Gravatar Evan said:

    August 13th, 2009 at 1:31 am (#)

    The link to the free edition of Geoff’s article now points to a “please subscribe” page. I don’t suppose there is any way that you (or your listeners) know of to access the article for free?
    A great podcast, by the way.

  2. User Gravatar Alistair said:

    August 14th, 2009 at 8:49 pm (#)

    You’re right. It’s available to “Premium Subscribers only”.

    I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else so I’ve asked Professor Pullum. I’ll let you know.

  3. User Gravatar Alistair said:

    August 18th, 2009 at 6:54 am (#)


    Geoff Pullum has kindly sent me a PDF of his article and I have (for the time being at least) switched the link at the start of this post so that it points to the PDF.

  4. User Gravatar Ed said:

    September 12th, 2010 at 7:56 pm (#)

    It was good to hear the voice of one of my university tutors in characteristically liberating mood. I can tell him that a few of us have employed anthropology-like methods in software design and documentation. But then the degree he contributed to was Anthropology and Linguistics.

    (It tried to submit this with my own name – Ed – and got an error. Who says a name must be three or more letters? A different flavour of nerdview?)

  5. User Gravatar Ed said:

    September 12th, 2010 at 7:57 pm (#)

    Being a nerd, however, I tried Ed with a following space. It worked, which makes me happy in two ways.

  6. User Gravatar Rick Wojcik said:

    March 14th, 2011 at 12:32 am (#)

    Hmmm. According to the page numbering, Geoff sent you a 4-page PDF that only had 3 pages. Damaging as that might be for his credibility, I enjoyed it enormously.

  7. User Gravatar Sachin said:

    September 26th, 2012 at 4:04 pm (#)

    I probably am a bit late for commenting on this one, but I found this to be the very helpful as it relates to the usage of the language. I have never opened the Elements of Style book ever even after being in the technical writing field for 9 years now. I usually go for the Chicago Manual of Style or Canadian Press Style for local writing. I have used to learn about words and their meanings and origins, now I might go ahead and get a copy of their Usage book. Thanks!