Strunk & White has been criticized by linguists. The reasons (at a very high level) are that it is prescriptivist (and some style manuals in the US such as the Chicago Manual of Style have become quite liberal (meaning more descriptivist) recently) and linguists have demonstrated that it is incorrect/inconsistent and outdated in a number of points; see here for an intro to and pointers for the relevant debate.

This is not to say that Strunk & White isn't without its merits and valid points and achievements and that it hasn't become an important part of US-American copyediting history. Also, many people still hold Strunk & White in high regard.

With this in mind, would it be possible to rename this badge? To me personally, this badge feels a bit like a prize awarded that carries the name of (say) a famous politician that has fallen into disrepute ;-)

(Also, the badge sounds US-centric, both because of the name itself and because the prescriptions in Strunk & White are not necessarily well-known or obeyed in other English-speaking countries. I understand that this might not be regarded as an issue by some, but I would still like to mention this fact, to provide more information for a discussion.)

What about "Assistant Editor"? Just one idea; there might be many other suitable names.

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    +1, I didn't even know what it meant, though I am familiar with the fact that the Elements of Style is a thing.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 6:53
  • Awww... I like the name. It's got color. ...though I guess I see your point.
    – Ziv
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 6:53
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    While I think the criticisms of Strunk & White are splitting hairs in the context of Stack Overflow (where people frequently write things like "plz", "thx", and "Greetz!"), I can see how users on EL&U and other sites in the SE network might cringe upon receiving the badge. Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 13:01
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    @BilltheLizard You are right, discussion of the content of S&W wouldn't belong here (though it certainly would in EL&U). But the fact that S&W is no longer universally accepted (without discussing the details) is important. As for your reference to "splitting hairs" - the fact that people are comfortable with "thx" etc in informal communication is in fact a descriptivist fact about language usage and would actually be part of a prescriptivism-vs-descriptivism discussion ;-) Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 17:41
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    Given that the Gold Version is called "Copy Editor" and that "Assistant Editor" is usually higher that might not work for the people at writers.stackexchange.com. Perhaps "Junior Copy Editor" Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 18:22
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    If descriptivism supports the use of txtspk, I wholly support keeping the name of the badge. And also forcing new users to read S&W before posting.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 18:22
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    @Shog9 Descriptivism is non-committal about txtspk (it would most likely say "it's fine if that's what people want to use", arguing that writing systems are very arbitrary and perhaps mentioning the fact that some writing system amount from a Western perspective to an elaborate system of abbreviations - for instance Japanese kanji usage). Descriptivism would not normally prescribe a particular usage. Also, "best practices" usage (which descriptivists happily acknowledge) can be genre-/register-dependent. As for style guides, there are many better and more modern styleguides than S&W. Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 19:27
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    @Shog9 For example a descriptivist might gladly acknowledge that uniformity of usage can ease reading speed. The existence of styleguides and orthographies and the existence of site-specific house rules aren't objected to by ordinary descriptivists. If the styleguide/orthography actually reflects common practice and makes grammatical sense etc. Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 19:32
  • nested parenthesis? no worries, I got this, I have trained for this
    – ajax333221
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 23:29
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    I think it's funny. Why can't we have some fun with badge names? Splitting hairs this is. Non-American slang for badge names would be welcome also! Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 3:41
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    @Shog9 A style guide is by definition prescriptivist. There is no such thing as a descriptivist copy editor, or they would have nothing to correct and improve. There is nothing at all wrong with normative standards to improve the user experience across the site, which is what our copy editors are doing. The descriptivist–prescriptivist hullabaloo is just that, and not to taken too seriously (there is an Meta.ELU question about it, too). But I’m 110% with you on txtspk: nobody should be forced to decode ETAOIN SHRDLU splutterings.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 1:15
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    @tchrist: I still think my suggestion - "galley slave" - should have been taken more seriously.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 1:29
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    @tchrist The issue is when styleguides prescribe things that make semantically no sense (like commas obligatorily before closing quotation marks in the US) or don't correspond to modern majority usage. There are many clear cases where noone seems to be inconvenienced by writing a certain thing, except to be offended is clearly a culturally acquired reaction by those who have received a certain education. (Eg: There are some people who will militantly require always writing "U.S." instead of "US", never mind that official gov't usage is changing, and the uncluttered style is becoming dominant.) Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 5:35

2 Answers 2


You are right that the book, The Elements of Style, is basically unknown outside of the US.

Many other existing badges are named with a tongue in cheek (Unsung Hero, Vox Populi, Tumbleweed, Deputy, Peer Pressure, Disciplined, Mortarboard) and as such are deeply rooted in idioms of one particular culture.

I am pretty sure that no one would seriously apply a century old popular writing style guide to a current website, so I hope that we don't need to think of ourselves as associating with the real book regardless of whether the badge is renamed or not.

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    Oh, you'd be surprised at how many people in the US will fight tooth-and-nail to defend what writing instructors (esp in the humanities) have upheld as the standard for academic writing for decades (in the US). Then, tech people tend to be less aware of this book and tend to obey it less (for various reasons). Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 7:33
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    All the examples you give have the benefit of being much more widely known, though I get your point about how the names don't prescribe what you do for the badge.
    – deadly
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 7:55
  • Just because it wouldn't be 'Strunk & White" doesn't mean it can't still have a clever name. Why not "Grammar Tutor", "Text Tamer" or "Cleanup Crew"?
    – Robotnik
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 0:00
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    @Robotnik - Well, I'm not living in the US, I'm a linguist by education, and I still don't have any problem with the current name. I enjoy it, it feels cute if perhaps not clever. (If Proofreader wasn't already taken, that would be my personal next choice. Your suggestions are good ones, too. But I just prefer the badges to have not-entirely-serious names, because then I don't feel that silly when hunting for some of them.) Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 10:55

I was happy to see this question – it popped up when I started asking it myself – but I'd go even further. It's not just that The Elements of Style is prescriptivist and descriptivism is in vogue; it's that Strunk and White's prescriptions are unobjectionable at best and idiotic at worst, yet English teachers across the U.S. continue to hold it up as a bible of good writing. Naming a badge after it just exacerbates the problem. You can read some criticisms here, if you're interested: http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/happy-birthday-strunk-and-white/

Put it this way: What would Stack Overflow users think if they discovered that some literature professors were giving out an award for excellence in web development (don't ask me why) and calling it the "w3schools" award?

So before I found this question I had my proposal ready: Bump "Editor" up to the silver level and rename the bronze badge "Proofreader." But now that I've read Shog9's "Galley Slave" suggestion I can't stop chuckling....

  • There is already a Proofreader badge...
    – Werner
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 5:21
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    Oh. Well, that's ... odd. Actual proofreaders don't generally have any authority; they just note errors and suggest corrections for someone else to make. So "Proofreader" isn't exactly an apt name for a badge that's awarded for rejecting or accepting edits. I guess I'd want to change that too, but I'm not sure to what.
    – practik
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 21:04

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