‘The Elements of F—ing Style’: curse words ‘for a greater purpose’

Laura Donovan Contributor
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Times have changed since William Strunk, Jr. published “The Elements of Style,” the ultimate writer’s bible, in 1919. Revised by “Charlotte’s Web” author E.B. White in 1959, “The Elements of Style” remains a trusted grammar and writing style guide for English nerds but can’t seem to prevent today’s decline in writing quality.

While Strunk and White probably aimed to improve the overall state of writing, “The Elements of Fucking Style” writers Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen simply don’t want modern day writers to appear moronic.

Baker, who started “The Fucking Word of the Day” website in 2009, was inspired to pen the vulgar “Elements of Fucking Style” after stumbling upon countless grammatical errors online.

“One glance at your friend’s blog should tell you everything you need to know about the sorry state of the English language,” says the new book’s promotional website. “This book gives you the tools you need to stop looking like an idiot on message boards and in interoffice memos.”

Released earlier this month, “The Elements of Fucking Style” uses profanity, sexually graphic wordplay, and blunt language to teach readers the mechanics of writing.

The book includes unconventional but simple sentences such as “The fucking kid has Lacoste shirts in blue, in green, in yellow, and in purple,” “Drunk and horny, I thought the man attractive,” and “Pronouns are a real bitch” to keep readers in line and explain basic grammatical rules.

Baker recently agreed to answer several questions from The Daily Caller about “The Elements of Fucking Style.”

1. What inspired you to write this book? Were you driven by frustration or love for the English language?

The idea was born one lonely night as I was browsing Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day archive and realized that their example sentences provided along with each word were generally culled from obscure, and verbose, sources. It seemed like a better solution would be to make learning slightly more fun, and thus more memorable. And so The Fucking Word of the Day (.com) was created, with the tagline “It’s easier to learn with sex, drugs, and swearing.”

The idea for “Elements” came not too long after the site went viral. The crowd really took to the idea, and the general consensus was that it did, in fact, work. So after seeing one too many friends screw up their status updates on Facebook with misuses of your and you’re or there and their, grammar seemed like a battle that needed to be fought. I pitched the idea to my cousin (and co-author) and we got to “translating” the [Strunk & White] manual for today’s audience.

2. How old were you when you first picked up “The Elements of Style”? How many times have you read it?

I own three copies, and have read it dozens of times since being issued my first directive to purchase it my Freshman year of college. The publishers like to keep the text fresh and usually release an “updated” version every year, like the illustrated version. I got suckered into buying that one too, even though the text is the same.

3. Which grammar mistakes anger you the most?

The grammar mistakes that anger me the most are usually the ones that are the easiest to avoid: your vs. you’re, their vs. there, loose vs. lose, etc. I don’t expect everyone to have Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Usage next to their laptop ready to flip open for their next status update, but those simple screw-ups are unacceptable. We created a new chapter in our version called “Words Your Bound to Fuck Up,” which details the most common of those errors. And yes, the title is like that on purpose.

4. Do you think including swear words in book titles (i.e. “Go the F— to Sleep,” “The Elements of Fucking Style”) will become a new trend among authors?

Adding swear words to titles seems like the biggest trend right now. The Fucking Word of the Day was started almost three years ago, and was one of the first instances of the practice. Since then it’s become a great bandwagon for people to jump on due to the simple fact that books with swear words in the title generally sell really well. And while I enjoy a lot of the uses of it, I feel as though ours is for a greater purpose. If adding the word fuck to a book on grammar gets some seventeen year old pot head more interested in something as boring as grammar, then shit, why not?

5. What kind of audience do you expect to have? Twenty-somethings? Teens? Educators?

When we wrote the book we wanted it to be dumbed down enough for even the most zealous dullard, but witty enough to provide grammar nerds and word geeks with a laugh as well. So far the response has been pretty great across the board, but we have seen a lot of people talking (on Twitter especially) about how they never thought they’d ever read a book on grammar. Till now. We hope everyone finds a use for the book, even if it’s someone who knows grammar but buys a copy for a friend or relative who doesn’t.

6. Your “ilovechrisbaker” bio isn’t very detailed. Where were you born and raised? Did you go to college? If so, what was your major?

I grew up in south Florida in an absurd school system in which I was pretty much forced to take learning up on my own. I then went to Stonehill College, a small private school right outside of Boston, where I studied Business Administration. Jake grew up in Albany and went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied Political Science. Jake’s currently in law school in North Carolina, and I live and work in New York City.

7. What are some of your favorite books?

My favorite book of all time is [Voltaire’s] Candide. It’s sarcastic and outrageous and every sentence makes me laugh out loud. But I’m also a huge fan of Don Delillo. White Noise, of course, being my favorite of his. I love the way he sculpts sentences and his sardonic worldview. Jake is a sucker for Bret Easton Ellis and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

8. Are you doing any media or book signings for “The Elements of Fucking Style”?

We currently have no signings planned (though we’d love to of course!) and we have done a few radio interviews, but that’s all on the stores and radio shows to invite us.

Laura Donovan