If you’ve ever been prescribed an overly crippling dose of William Strunk’s The Elements of Style, then you know how painful it is to read prose about (sometimes dated) grammatical rules written in a stilted, stuffy cadence circa 1918.
Enter, thankfully, The Elements of F*cking Style, published this year and written by Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen. While the scope and aim of the work is similar to that of the original Elements of Style—and while a subtle, persnickety insistence on prescriptive practices finds its way into the book, such as the authors’ assertion that “The active voice is the only way to fly”—F*cking Style employs a seemingly age-old trick to cajole, coerce, and even downright convince the most ungrammatical of grammar non-nerds to leaf through its pages: “using sex, drugs, and fucking swearing. . . . Because we’re into that shit.”
A quick glance through the “Table of Fucking Contents” illustrates that the book covers the basics, as it were. Such sections as “Commas are fucking fun,” “A colon is more than an organ that gets cancer,” and “Pronouns are a real bitch” walk readers through the usefulness of, say, using commas “to parenthesize shit,” and a general adherence to grammatical rules that will keep your writing clear and cogent. Subsequent sections delve more deeply into instructions on writing, with pages devoted to using “strong, definite language in your writing”—in an attempt to “Make that sentence your bitch”—parallel construction, organized under the apt (I guess) moniker of “Symmetry is the tits,” and organization of words, thoughts, and paragraphs, under the section “Incest need not stay relegated to European monarchies; keep related words together for clarity.” A real strength of this work is the entire section on “Words Your Bound to Fuck Up,” a helpful guide to its and it’s; they’re, their, and there; and affect and effect—among other words—that we have all fucked up at some point or another.
However, the talent the authors display for vivid imagery and example writing that would make your mother cringe (as well as get her to understand grammar rules) makes the book funnier than a night of shitty Dane Cook stand-up on Comedy Central. For instance:
On symmetry: “All right, remember what we wrote about half a page ago regarding symmetry? About how it sucks big, flaccid penis and stinks of amateurism?”
On the positive form: “It was not that I studied more, but that I smoked pot less.”
On not “fuck[ing] up the coordination of number between subject and verb”: “Everything I loved about her—the pert breasts, the deviant sexuality, the incessant need to videotape our lovemaking—is everything that haunts me.”
As I read my way through F*cking Style, I will no doubt arrive at points where that aforementioned subtle, persnickety insistence on prescriptive practices inspires a bit of blog-mediated rambling and arguing. At which point, I hope, you will join me—for or against—in the fucking comments section, and criticize or applaud the shit out of whatever the fuck it is I’m saying.