Last week at Ragan's PR Daily, Steve Vittorioso published a little article, "20 (more) signs you're a word nerd," which neatly encapsulates the combination of sound counsel, ineffective generality, and downright error that marks much of the current writing about language and usage.
Writing as "InkHouse's resident grammarian," he starts off (and you may have seen this coming) with "You eat, breathe and sleep Associated Press style—and text and tweet it." I don't, and neither should you. The AP Stylebook is one of many manuals, and like the others it makes reasonable choices about capitalization and other mechanics to provide consistency. But its choices, like all style choices, are arbitrary, and any publication is free to choose otherwise. Moreover, as readers of this blog will have seen from the posts at which I wale away at the AP Stylebook, it has a considerable amount of dated and wrong-headed information.
"Your favorite authors are William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." Not mine. I haven't consulted Strunk and White since I was in high school, and though I do not share Professor Geoffrey Pullum's venomous dislike of the Little Book, I don't find it very useful for grown-up writers.
"You know the difference between more than and over." What I know is that there is a superstition among journalists that over may only be used in describing physical relationships. Bryan Garner writes that "the prepositional over is interchangeable with more than ... and this has been so more more than 600 years. The charge that over is inferior to more than is a baseless crotchet. ..."
"Unnecessary apostrophes such as 1990’s or 20’s ignite migraines." If arbitrary stylistic choices endanger your health, you may be in the wrong trade.
"It’s one space—not two—after periods." Yeah, standard practice in current publishing.
"You know how to “parse tree” (diagram) a sentence." Yes, I do, but what I noticed in grammar school was that the people who already knew grammar enjoyed diagramming, and those who didn't got little or no benefit from the enterprise. Like doing crosswords or playing Scrabble, it's a mildly amusing occupation but not much more.
"Your writing philosophy: deploying muscular verbs and varying sentence lengths." If I knew what the muscular verbs were, this might amount to something. But if he means to avoid forms of "to be," he's going to construct some very odd sentences, no matter what their length. For my purposes, all the parts of speech have their uses, along with a full range of vocabulary, and I deploy them as I see fit.
You get the drift. And the comments on the article are also pretty much what you would expect. One sad specimen: "My eighth-grade English teacher insisted that 'not only' must be followed by 'but also.' Ditto 'whether ... or not' and 'if ... then.' I still follow those rules."
If you are a word nerd like me (how did Mr. Vittorioso omit the like/such as mythical distinction?), and I do not defer in word nerdiness to any man or woman living, then perhaps your understanding of the language and the craft of writing has progressed a little beyond Strunk and White, the AP Stylebook, and the eighth grade, to a point at which simplistic "rules" give way to informed judgments.