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.Whimsy does not amuse Gelertner, who seems to attribute many of his own ideas to to "Elements" co-author E.B. White:
[White] insisted on simplicity, clarity, concreteness. He would have despised subliterate email, unedited Web ramblings and gaseous literary criticism posing as philosophy.But enough rambling. Let's get to the point I wanted to make, as evinced by the post title:
White ... hated politicized writing; in 1979, he added a new rule to "Elements" to explain just why "gender-neutral writing" is ridiculous. "The use of he as a pronoun for nouns embracing both genders is a simple, practical convention rooted in the beginnings of the English language. He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances." But the 1999 revision slips an extra sentence into White's rule, like an assassin slipping a stiletto into someone's back: "Currently, however, many writers find the use of the generic he or his to rename indefinite antecedents limiting or offensive." But White never minded offending people. He rejected the trendy and glitzy. He admired good craftsmanship. He didn't mind being called old-fashioned.I wonder if we regret it now, shifting over to gender-neutral writing. We sacrificed elegance to make a political point -- over and over again, in texts that have nothing to do with gender politics, and long after everyone has absorbed and accepted the point. Women are equal. We all get it. And yet we must go on forever, writing (and speaking) awkwardly.