by Victoria Fedorets
In 1907, the following text appeared in Edwin C Woolley’s (1907) Handbook of Composition: A Compendium of Rules Regarding Good English, Grammar, Sentence Structure, Paragraphing, Manuscript Arrangement, Punctuation, Spelling, Essay Writing, and Letter Writing. This handbook was intended to provide guidelines for students to refer to while writing, and for teachers to correct the writing of their students. The handbook included a series of independent rules that were either followed or broken.
The handbook was an active effort to shift from the traditional grammar books of the time that focused on the parts of speech, clause modifiers, etc., to include 350 rules governing writing in the English language and style.
Below are some examples from the book (p. 4):
- The contractions don’t, isn’t, haven’t, etc. are not appropriate in formal composition. They are proper in conversation and in composition of a colloquial style that structured descriptive.
- Do not use high flow language for plain things.
Bad: To keep the horsehealthy you must be careful of his environment.
Right: To keep the horse healthy you must be careful of his stable.
Note. Showy language, like showy dress, is in bad taste. The essence of artistic language, as of everything artistic, is not abundant ornament but appropriateness. Straining for high sounding expressions to replace plain English makes a style weak and crude. Call a leg a leg not a limb, book a book not an effort, call a letter a letter not a kind favor, call socks socks not hose, call a house a house, not a residence; say “I went to bed”, not “I retired”, “I got up”, not “I arose”
- The use of sentence (except a quoted sentence) as the subject of IS or WAS is crudity.
Crude: I was detained by business is the reason I’m late.
Right: “I was detained by business; that is the reason I’m late.”
- Double negative ( i.e., the use in sentence, of two or more negative words not coordinate, -as “I couldn’t find it nowhere”) is forbidden by modern usage..
- A composition should treat a single subject and should treat it throughout according to a self- consistent method.
- Use to the question mark after the direct question, but not after an indirect question.
Bad: He asked what caused the accident?
Right: He asked what caused the accident.
Right: He asked, “What caused the accident?”
- Italicize name of ships.
- The postage stamp should be attached in the upper right-hand corner. It should be right side up and its edges should be parallel to edges of the envelope. A postage stamp upside down or affixed in a haphazard fashion raises against the sender of the letter a suspicion of slovenliness.
Writing teachers today would be right at home with Wooley’s grammar. His rules were followed by various handbooks for a while- an immense range of rules to be referred to in order to distinguish the possible errors. His method was different from other writers, like Murray’s (22 rules to be learned by heart); however, Wooley’s 354 grammar rules were memorized and to be used for reference. As opposed to other writing/style guides of the time, rhetorical and spoken language was never mentioned.
Reinking, McKeena Labbo, & Keifer (1998) in their Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in A Post-Typographic World (p.14), refer to a post-typographic world as a time after the printers, typewriters, laser printers and fax machines. That post-typographic time is upon us as we are in the paperless age of television, IPods, Ipads, Tweets, TMS (text messaging services), internet sites, and apps. How do we, as educators, hold students accountable for knowing grammar and writing rules in order to teach literacy? Modern literacy is being merged with media literacy, where the ability to write (i.e., the ability to synthesize ideas and elements to create new text per the core competencies of the public schools) means being media literate. This media literacy is now a necessity for students and teachers alike, as it exists in and out of the classroom.
Referring to Wooley’s (1907) rules, does the metacognitive ability in children provide them with the set of “instruments” to follow the rules of writing as an innate ability while being exposed to the digital and media era? Can—and should— we trace children’s ability of learning a rule as they master their mother tongue? How about the cognate ability of the ESL/EFL speaker? Or that of the L2 and L1 bilingual child raised in the US? Do we have to refer to the “media” rules while educating the individuals K-12 and what are they?
Reinking, D., McKenna, M. C., Labbo, L. D., & Kieffer, R. D. (1998). Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in A Post-typographic World. New York, NY: Routledge.
Woolley, E. C., PhD. (1907). Handbook of Composition: A Compendium of Rules Regarding Good English, Grammar, Sentence Structure, Paragraphing, Manuscript Arrangement, Punctuation, Spelling, Essay Writing, and Letter Writing. Lexington, MNA: DC Heath & Company