A blog post has been doing the rounds recently in which Noah Kagan, an early Facebook employee, describes how he was fired from Facebook. He estimates that this termination has cost him $100 million.
It’s a sad story, but it’s by no means the most alarming thing on that page. No, the real tragedy is in the image that accompanies Kagan’s blog post, which shows an inscription in a book given to him by Mark Zuckerberg.
Before you jump to conclusions, it’s not Zuck’s rendering of grammar as “grammer”. I think we can safely guess that was on purpose.
No, it’s the fact that Zuckerberg was dishing out one of the most hideously awful books of all time, the monstrously outmoded and utterly wrong-headed The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, to his employees. You can see the title page in the headline image above.
Like, seriously Mark? Because I thought we’d all had this conversation already.
Celebrated linguist Geoff Pullum calls The Elements of Style a “poisonous little collection of bad grammatical advice” that trades in “ridiculous invented nonsense”. In fact, he goes a little further than that. Here are his most famous words on the subject:
“The book’s toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules.
“Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write however or than me or was or which, but can’t tell you why.”
The group blog Pullum writes for, Language Log, has called The Elements of Style “the mangiest of stuffed owls”. It’s not just them. In linguistic departments everywhere, people are blasting The Elements of Style for creating awkwardness and insecurity where there is no need for it.
I’ll leave seasoned observers to draw whatever parallels with Facebook they please from all this.
Suffice it to say that Strunk and White’s hectoring, nannying, bullying, oppressive and impenetrable advice is very opposite of the values Zuckerberg has tried so hard to convince us all lie at the heart of the Facebook project.