Legend has it that William Strunk Jr. was a terror in the classroom. He taught a composition class at Cornell University, from which the classic Elements of Style emerged, and he was fond of tormenting his students by publicly pointing out the inadequacies of their writing.

As frightening as he was, his class was very popular, and was held in one of Cornell's largest lecture halls. Whenever Strunk walked into the room, it fell silent -- nobody wanting to stand out and be picked on.

He came in to start his lecture one day, armed with a sheaf of papers, as usual. He strode to the lectern, shuffled his papers around, gazed at his students over his spectacles, cleared his throat.

"Omit needless words," the professor intoned.

He gathered his papers and left.