Archive for July 26th, 2009


9780205309023Who died and put Strunk and White in charge of the English language?

If you talk to anyone who takes the rules of grammar and usage seriously, the names Strunk and White are bound to come up. The Elements of Style, the “little book” that was originally self-published by Professor William Strunk, Jr. at Cornell University and then, fifty years ago, was edited and mass produced by his former student, E.B. White, has become the definitive authority for amateur grammarians.

Wondering what constitutes a split infinitive? Check Strunk and White. Need to know when to use a semicolon? Check Strunk and White. What’s the difference between “shall” and “will”? Check Strunk and White.

But where exactly does their authority come from?

On the one hand, it comes from the fact that the snobs who always correct you when you misuse the subjunctive mood and wince when you use “good” as an adverb generally worship at the alter of Strunk and White. Its brevity and sardonic tone (“Prestigious: Often an adjective of last resort. It’s in the dictionary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.”) help to make it handy for every show-off on the go. Continue reading

Ranking The Bill of Rights, Number 9: The Tenth Amendment

I like the Bill of Rights. So, while the Second Amendment is pretty terrible, I don’t have a particularly strong distaste for any other of the first ten amendments.

With that said, the Tenth Amendment has no point. It reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

It is a truth reflected already by the rest of the Constitution. The Constitution gives each of the three branches of the national government expressly delegated powers: Why the need to repeatedly emphasize that this is the case? The Supreme Court even claimed in United States v. Sprague that the Tenth Amendment has added “nothing to the [Constitution] as originally ratified.” What is the Tenth Amendment amending? Imagine an amendment to a marriage license that states that the husband and wife are married.  Sure, I’m sympathetic to the idea that the national government’s powers need to be limited, but the reality is that the Tenth Amendment does little to assure that this is a reality. It recognizes that federalism exists without giving any teeth to it.
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