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May 11, 2005

Strunkov and Stalin

In one of the very first issues of the Weekly Standard back in 1995, there was a delightful parody of My American Journey, the autobiography of Colin Powell that had just come out. The trouble was (if you call this trouble) that the parody was so good that a few people thought it was a real excerpt from the book. After that, the Weekly Standard begin, lamely, to label its parodies. I'm sure I'm being unfair; they were probably threatened with a lawsuit and decided to play it safe.

In the past 10 years, most of the parodies in the Weekly Standard have been relatively feeble, though I still have one, buried somewhere at my office, in which they wrote a brilliant spoof of Italian opera based on the goings-on in the Clinton administration.

This week, there's another good one, a spoof of Strunk and White called "Strunkov and Stalin." Unfortunately, it's available here to subscribers only. They quote a review of Robert Service's biography of Stalin in the Moscow Times, which notes that Stalin was "a compulsive and professional editor who corrected any manuscript that crossed his desk for style and grammar as well as for ideology." If that weren't funny enough, the parody offers some "Elementary Rules of Usage" and "Elementary Principles of Composition" from Strunkov and Stalin. My favorites are these rules of usage:

1. Choose your words with care.

2. Do not join independent clauses with a comma. Your late father once did that.

8. There are certain things that seem entirely fine to say but aren't at all. Try to discern some sort of pattern.

And these principles of composition:

1. Put statements in a positive form. Unless they should be negative. Or maybe just omitted. Or emphasized. It's up to you. Good luck.

5. Use definite, specific, concrete language when you feel an urge to be sent someplace else for a long period of time.

6. Write in a way that comes naturally to you, if "you" is Stalin.

8. Try not to have too many regrets.