William Safire's Fumblerules
Self-contradicting Rules for Writingby Dave McAwesome
The first 36 rules are those William Safire compiled in his October 7 and November 4, 1979 "On Language" columns in The New York Times. I believe rules 37 to 54 are from Safire's book, Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage. I'll confirm that presently. Each rule is self-contradictory, that is, it violates the thing it tells the reader to avoid. I've added my dissenting views below.
- Remember to never split an infinitive.
- A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.
- The passive voice should never be used.
- Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
- Don't use no double negatives.
- Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.
- Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
- Do not put statements in the negative form.
- Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
- No sentence fragments.
- Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
- Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
- If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
- A writer must not shift your point of view.
- Eschew dialect, irregardless.
- And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
- Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
- Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
- Hyphenate between sy-
llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
- Write all adverbial forms correct.
- Don't use contractions in formal writing.
- Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
- It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
- If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
- Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
- Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
- Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
- Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
- Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
- If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
- Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
- Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
- Always pick on the correct idiom.
- "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'"
- The adverb always follows the verb.
- Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They're old hat; seek viable alternatives.
- Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
- Employ the vernacular.
- Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
- Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
- Contractions aren't necessary.
- Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
- One should never generalize.
- Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
- Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
- Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
- Be more or less specific.
- Understatement is always best.
- One-word sentences? Eliminate.
- Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
- Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
- Who needs rhetorical questions?
- Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
- capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with a point
I agree with most of these rules. A few, however, are open for discussion.
1. Remember to never split an infinitive. Splitting an infinitive is not as egregious an error as the Grammar Police would have us believe.
8. Do not put statements in the negative form. Why not? Dump this pointless rule.
16. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. While starting a sentence with a conjunction is usually unnecessary, the technique can be utilized to good effect for emphasis or for rhythmic phrasing (good writing has a good rhythm; bad writing sounds like fourth grade band practice).
40. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary. This is an unnecessary, nitpicky rule. It should be rewritten: Parenthetical remarks should be used sparingly.
41. Contractions aren't necessary. Stupid, bonehead rule. It contradicts rule number 38.
44. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know." Eliminate quotations? It depends on the context. Quotes are fine when employed as evidence to support a point you're making. What's not fine are the obnoxious, flowery quotes writers use to sound "sensitive." Ask yourself, "Am I adding this quote so that others will think I'm profound?" If so, dump it.
45. Comparisons are as bad as cliches. Wrong. Comparisons have explanatory power, while cliches are by definition overused and have lost their former clarifying force.
48. Understatement is always best. Yeah? See my comment about number 53.
49. One-word sentences? Eliminate. No. (See comment 16 regarding rhythm.)
50. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake. This is another arbitrary rule. He may as well say, "Stop using the word 'the.'" If overused, analogies grow tiresome. Otherwise, use them at your discretion.
51. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms. You could argue this contradicts rule number 38. Your stronger argument would be, "Shut the hell up, Safire. I want my writing to reflect the colloquialisms of my native region." Don't give that, "oh, but journalists shouldn't use colloguialisms, right?" crap either. Why should journalists be boring? Writing cannot be separated from the writer. That's a controversial opinion, and I don't expect you to take my word for it, but it's my site, so my opinion rules.
52. Who needs rhetorical questions? Rhetoricians, perhaps? Honestly, I can't disagree. I just wanted to put in that snarky comment.
53. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement. Not true if you're a humorist or satirist.