Elements of Style

I know of John, while we have never been formally introduced to each other, I often see John at court’s car park, in the courtroom itself, and I once saw John nursing a few glasses of Rosé at La Bodega during office hours (no judgment).

I know few things about John: he is a lawyer with one of largest law firms in Malaysia, he must be in his early forties and he drives an Italian car. Oh, he’s a litigation lawyer since I have been seeing him in court.

Last Wednesday, on a drizzly afternoon, fate sat us next to each other in the same courtroom while waiting for the judge to begin his session. I flipped open a book to avoid making an idle chat with anyone I don’t fancy. John, seated right next to me, was furiously writing clever stuff on his journal. I don’t carry those boring journals; I have a Moleskine. *Smirk*

But everything about John spelt luxury: the gleaming Bell & Ross watch on his wrist, silver Mont Blanc pen clasped firmly between his thumb and index fingers and the crisp, freshly laundered and pressed court robe – while mine looked like Ronald Weasley’s hand-me-down.

A bit too fancy for Malaysian court, John.

But just like me, he was also throwing few inquisitive glances along my way. Not so long after, John gave in to his curiosity. He said to me:

“What is that you are reading? You look so engrossed with it.”

“Really? Oh, I am just pretending to read so that I don’t have to chat with anyone.” I jokingly answered.

“I am so sorry, I don’t mean to intrude… I apologise.” John replied sheepishly.

“It’s a joke, dear…” I cracked a smile to his direction.

“What is it then?” John probed further.

Element of Style by Strunk & White” I answered as a matter of fact.

“You love fashion?” John questioned me as to the contents of the book. I swear I heard a tinge of sarcasm in his voice, if not, of disdain.

“Yes, I love fashion all right, but that’s not what this book is about.” My annoyance, at this point, was thinly veiled.

“Oh? What is about then?” He raised his eyebrows in confusion.

“It’s about writing.”

“If you are a lawyer, why do you need to learn about writing? All lawyers can write.” He said smugly.

“That is a serious misconception, my friend. This is a different kind of writing, not the one that you need to write a submission to court.” I replied to John even though I could sense that this conversation was not going anywhere I like.

“What kind of writing is that?”

Someone please shut this person up!

I relented and handed John the book. Half an hour passed, the judge was nowhere to be found, and John was still reading my book.

“Err, can I have my book back?” I politely asked John.

“My god, this book is awesome!” John exclaimed, “How did you know about this book?”

“An author friend of mine introduced it to me, but he pretends that he is a manager somewhere else”

“Oh? Why is that – 

“I don’t know, my friend, people are weird sometimes.” I gave a dead one-liner answer but John was not done.

“Where did you get it?”

“At Borders… Kinokuniya stocked some, too, but they are in hardcover.”

Element of Style is a must-have for all aspiring authors, however, if you rigidly adhere to the instructions, you’ll risk writing a flawless but stale piece – just my point of view.

18 thoughts on “Elements of Style

  1. The Elviza’s style apa kurangnya? All the court and office distractions are always refreshing, especially when they involve weird, smug and overdecorated personalities.

    Prof,

    Psssttt, between you and me, John is a tad “overdecorated.” I am such a bad person…

  2. “John, who was sitting next to me, was furiously writing clever stuff on his journal.”

    Allo kawan, what makes you so sure he was writing clever stuff?😉

    Dear Pi,

    Because he looked as though he was writing those important, cant-wait-a-minute kind of stuff! LOL

  3. Elviza,

    A writer is an observer and in case you haven’t noticed you are a fine observer. This post and that of Janda Baik is a living testimony to it.

    Am a fan, a huge fan of yours.🙂

    Dear Saliza,

    Thank you so much for the kind words.🙂

  4. You get better by days. You can write just about anything and still make me read them from start to finish. I think I need to seek professional help Elviza, I have coming to this site everyday to check something new and often ended up frustrated. I know you have other jobs to do but can you blog everyday please?

    LOL

    Hashim,

    I so want to write everyday but I still need my regular monthly income to pay the credit cards, which I need to carry everywhere I go to appease my addiction with shoes and handbags. *coiling in shame*

  5. BTW, that Mat Bangkai guy is your equivalent, been reading him but never left a comment. You should join forces and write a blog together. How’s that for an idea?

    Hashim,

    It’s flattering that you equate me to MB. But I think I still have a lot to learn from him before I could sway my pencil as smoothly as he does his fountain pens.🙂

  6. Elviza

    Thanks for the plug, ma’am.

    Actually, for a few years, I lived and breathed Elements of Style. That was also the period when everything I wrote looked like it was written by a robot. Nothing wrong with the book, though; just me being too rigid.

    Then I decided it was time to unlearn all that stuff. And when I did, my writing was back to what could be called ‘almost-human’ again. But the experience was Zen-like: We learn stuff so that we can unlearn them. Like learning karate; learning to fight so we don’t have to fight.

    Er… Mr Hashim Ahmad thinks we should do a Bonnie & Clyde. What do you think?

    Mat,

    Bonnie & Clyde? What is it with you and criminals? I prefer to do it the Fred & Ginger way.

  7. Ah, that’s my girl.. as eloquent as ever🙂
    Bila nak berkopi=kopian ni?
    Come, I belanja you, with that Clyde of yours..

    Salam Kak,

    Coffee? You name the time and the place, for I will surely be there. But I thought, the last time we spoke, I supposed to belanja you right? Dah tukar pulak…

    “That Clyde of mine” will surely be delighted to meet you in person. Or should we arrange for a larger scale gathering once bad boy MadSalo is home?

  8. “I don’t carry those boring journals; I have a Moleskine. *Smirk*”
    This line is great!

    Actually I shouldn’t be coming to blogs right now – definitely NOT to `waste time and energy’ writing a comment when I’m required to do so elsewhere. However, not doing so will result in my thinking about it and affecting my already poor attention span.

    I’ve done a search for this book just now – must know more, and try to get it since at least two notable writers have mentioned it. It’s actually from 1918 – there’s a chance the original won’t be that costly since it’s out of copyright. And if I try hard enough, I might even find a digital copy that’s free AND legal.

    Mat,

    Best if you could get it free but the copy that I have is not too expansive either, Borders is selling is at RM30 odd. Sorry to have distracted you from doing your work, do come again when you are done, my friend.

  9. I have that book on my shelf, collecting dust. It’s not even mine.

    Ooh, you should open the book, it has a gold mine in so far as English language is concerned.

  10. When it comes to work, it will *never* be “done” – there’s always something that I must do. But it’s a good thing actually – I may no longer have the previous `freedom’ but it has been replaced with a `different freedom’. And anyway, these are all BY CHOICE – I can choose not to have money:-P

    RM30… I guess that’s reasonable, given the price of things nowadays. But I wouldn’t say it’s “cheap” – that’s for books of RM20 or less… and if they are written in English.

  11. The book’s title is very attractive lah. Ingatkan cerita about Diva in the making ke..how to apply make-up ke and how to mix-match..etc..etc. Malu pulak pada diri sendiri. It comes naturally la. Please help me.

  12. Elviza,

    Do you know why you dont want to talk to anyone in court? BEcause you need to hang out with writers. That’s what you need to do…

  13. This book is stiff and not user friendly. But, it sticks to the classic rules of English language so it would make a good foundation to non-native speaking user.

    I love the way you make this book review (is it not?) rather unique and pleasant to read with your anecdotes. Talent like this is hard to come by. Keep on blogging, Elviza.

  14. “Element of Style is a must-have for all aspiring authors, however, if you rigidly adhere to the instructions, you’ll risk writing a flawless but stale piece – just my point of view”.

    Absolutely.

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