Tag Archives: style

Buzzwords of 2008

I enjoyed this column, and its sidebar, about the year’s buzzwords. It’s a fun (and quick) read.

List compiler Grant Barrett is taking questions and comments here.

Style guide and local library

I became in need of The Chicago Manual of Style this week, and I don’t own a copy.

We called the local library, to see if its shelves bore a copy of the style guide. The response: The Siloam Springs Public Library does have a copy of the style book — from 1993. I declined that offer, and promptly signed up for the 30-day free trial of the online version of the style book.

Next time, I’ll get out and buy a current copy of the book.

Judging books by their covers

I suppose I’ve nearly always judged books by their covers. I do tend to consider a book’s cover when deciding what books to take home from the library (Who am I kidding? I’m sure this is true at the bookstore, too!). I had to realize this recently, after finally picking up and devouring a couple of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

Several friends, whose opinions I trust, had recommended these books. I know one friend had brought up the series multiple times. When I’d pick up a volume at the library, though, I just put it back down. The covers put me off.

old sayers

This time, though, I read the back cover and sneaked a peak at the copyright page. The book was published in the 1920s! In that context, the cover made sense. I took home a volume or two (I don’t remember which exactly, or how many).

The books are mysteries, but they cross genres, really. They can stand as novels. The stories are truly compelling, more than worth the risk. I regret waiting so long!

Intermediate covers weren’t much better.


Thankfully, new volumes have been released, with much improved covers.

new cover

What books have you been putting off reading because of the covers? Maybe it’s time to take the chance.

Prescriptive grammar?

According to a Language Log post I saw first at A Teacher’s Education, the military wants us all to capitalize Soldier, even when it stands alone. Army Chief of Staff General Peter J. Schoomaker apparently thinks this will help instill respect for the people who are in the military.

It won’t work.

My first thought was not would people get it, but rather: would people DO it. I understand that we write, now (you and I, anyway, and your readers here), mostly according to the established pattern. But this seems like an iffy time to try such a thing: It seems to me (albeit as no historian) that the English language is accepting and conforming more and more to today’s digital shorthand — which basically ignores (intentionally or not) the accepted grammar rules.

I’d imagine the print media (which are resistent to change in grammar rules, particularly those pushed on them by people and institutions they’re working to guard against, as watchdogs) would ignore such a prescript. The AP Stylebook is notoriously slow to change — it was just in the last (yearly) edition that it finally conceded to popular opinion that internet shouldn’t be capitalized and that online doesn’t need a hyphen.

It’s good for the military to take charge of this where they can — but that’s basically in its own writings, which are seen by the general public quite rarely. Working at a newspaper, I saw a good chunk of them, and they, for several years now, have Soldier, Sailor, etc., capitalized. The copy desk routinely replaced all those capitalized letters for title standing alone with the lowercase letter. They corrected the releases. Capitalizing titles only before names is a long-standing tradition. It will be difficult to change. I’m sure a few publications will be quick to change — Stars and Stripes comes to to mind, although I’m not very familiar with it.

How long has it taken for a rule to change in the past? Take the serial comma, for instance. I was taught in high school (I had several different English teachers) that first the serial comma was used always, and later that it’s only used when needed for clarity. My nonuse of the serial comma was reinforced in college and in journalism classes particularly. Some teachers still require the serial comma’s use today, 12 years after I graduated from high school. Just because the government wants to institute a change in proper capitalization, does that mean it will happen? How many generations will it take for the change to take hold?

Finally, even if this did catch on, it’s a slippery slope. It’s no stretch that it would make writers rethink capitalization generally, and it would become a sign of a writer’s world view. Or, if a person is feeling particularly anti, he or she could simply not capitalize the titles (even with the names!) of the offending parties. What a mess.

Government interference with baby’s name: shouldn’t be

A Swedish couple’s life is being put on hold and frustrated by the refusal of that country’s tax authority to OK the name of their 6-month-old daughter. The name the couple chose and the government rejected: Metallica.

Sweden’s tax agency rejected Michael and Karolina Tomaro’s application to name their six-month-old daughter after the legendary rock band. “It suits her,” Karolina Tomaro, 27, said Tuesday of the name. “She’s decisive and she knows what she wants.”

Although little Metallica has already been baptized, the Swedish National Tax Board refused to register the name, saying it was associated with both the rock group and the word “metal.”

See here for the full news piece.

This doesn’t make sense to me.

The couple should be able to use any name they want. It shouldn’t matter that the word has been used/was created as the proper noun identifying a band.

Per this site, many people and institutions should be in uproar about naming conventions, too:

• Nivea and Terius Nash named their child Navy. Now there’s a name the U.S. government should protest.

• Sylvester Stallone has a daughter named Sistine Rose. Should the Vatican complain? Or what about Michaelangelo’s estate?

• Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their daughter Apple. I haven’t heard the Washington state fruit industry grousing.

I’ll add to the list:

• Brooklyn was in the top 100 most popular names in the United States in 2005 (the most recent year of data), according to the Social Security Administration — number 78, to be exact. Should the name be banned, since it’s associated with the borough of New York?

• A friend of mine named her daughter Britain. Similar to the Brittany of the day, but also unique.

Naming a child is such an individual process. Each parent is pulled in multiple directions when considering the possibilities — unique? popular? family name? traditional? meaning? sound? origin?

No matter the parents’ homeland, they should be able to select the name of their choice.

When to follow the rules

It seems I started something and haven’t finished it yet. Here’s a follow up.

It’s hard to set a hard-and-fast rule. So many such standards depend on context and local style.

• Ending sentences with prepositions is often OK, except perhaps in the most formal of writings. Even English teachers are beginning to accept this. See here and here.

• Double negatives generally confuse the reader and thus should be avoided. The goal, after all, is clear communication.

It’s one of the foundational concepts of mass communication: What you say and what is heard can be two very different things. One of a writer’s goals is to prevent that from happening.

I’ve tackled creating a local style guide in the past, but I’m not about to start from scratch and create an overarching style guide. For so many venues of communication, style guides already exist!

Rules vary, based on context — both the online/scholarly paper/email/letter to Mom context and the culture/geographical location of a piece of writing — and that’s a good thing. I agree with Grammar Girl that nearly every institution in existence should have a local style, in writing, though.

I love the many nuances of our language and its use. I love that it evolves: New words constantly being created illustrates that there’s always more for me to discover.

In general, I enjoy language. Too much dissection can harm that relationship. Disrespect can also cause a problem, though. Balance between rules and creativity is simultaneously essential and hard to find.

It’s important to note, however, that the rules of writing cannot be broken in the spirit of creativity without the writer’s knowledge of the standards. All writers, regardless of their context, should acquaint themselves with the rules of writing.