10 March 2016

Starting Fresh

I've been on a bit of an E.B. White kick since I read the Essays last year, so I picked up Letters of E.B. White for a song (well, really for $4) on Amazon Marketplace, and am having fun reading through it. I found this delightful rebuke to New Yorker editor William Shawn over an edit done to one of White's pieces, and had such a good howl over it that I had to share.

February 1945
[Interoffice Memo]


In the comment on Life’s storage wall, I wrote: “...a pretty good case can be made out for setting fire to it and starting fresh.” Some studious person, alone with his God in the deep of night, came upon the word “fresh” and saw how easily it could be changed to the word “afresh,” a simple matter of affixing an “a.” So the phrase became “starting afresh” and acquired refinement, and a sort of grammatical excellence.

I still think people say “start fresh.” I shall continue to write “start fresh,” to say “start fresh,” and, in circumstances which require a restart, I shall actually start fresh. I don’t ever intend to start afresh. Anybody who prefers to start afresh is at liberty to do so, but I don’t recommend it.

An afresh starter is likely to be a person who wants to get agoing. He doesn’t just want to get going, he wants to get agoing. An afresh started is also likely to be a person who feels acold when he steps out of the tub.

Some of my best friends lie abed and run amuck, but they do not start afresh. Never do. However, if there is to be a growing tendency in the New Yorker office to improve words by affixing an “a,” I shall try to adjust myself to this amusing situation. Characters in my stories will henceforth go afishing, and they will read Afield & Astream. They will not be typical people, they will all be atypical. Some of them, perhaps all of them, will be asexual, even amoral.

E.B. White

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