Searching 43 stylebooks

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On John McIntyre's blog You Don't Say, I recently learned about a site where you can search 43 different stylebooks at once.  These run the gamut from the recommendations of the American Anthropological Association to those of the World Health Organization, by way of The Economist Style Guide, Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style,  the Oregon Department of Human Services, and The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual.

The site is OnlineStylebooks.com, and as John notes, "This should help you to learn how to live with inconsistency".  Which is ironic, since the purpose of stylebooks is to help achieve consistency.

The site's "About" page explains:

OnlineStylebooks.com is owned and operated by Mary Beth Protomastro, who has been reading stylebooks since high school. The founder of Copyediting newsletter, she is the copy chief of More magazine and was editor of the Time magazine stylebook. OnlineStylebooks.com is not affiliated with any of those publications.

Mary Beth created OnlineStylebooks.com to help copy editors (including herself) quickly consult a variety of style guides.

Surveying this explicit variety of sources may help to avoid an otherwise-natural confusion.  These stylebooks are not about the nature of (the formal written variety of) the English language: each of them documents (aspects of) one organization's policy about how to represent this language in writing, typically covering a limited set of cases that are both reasonably common and somewhat variable in general practice.

Some people are tempted to treat policies of this kind by analogy to the theological differences among religious sects.  Believers are convinced that one set of policies is (or should be) God's Truth, with the others to be consumed in the fires of hell, while skeptics think that they're all just different forms of nonsense.

Both of these attitudes seem to me to misread the situation.  Once you decide, for whatever reason, that representational consistency is a Good Thing, then you need to deal with the Long Tail of Linguistic Complexity.  It's tempting to think that there are a few basic axioms from which the Right Answer could always be logically derived for any question of linguistic analysis — and perhaps some day a future linguistic Peano will give them to us.  But as things stand,  questions of linguistic representation are more like common law than like set theory.  The only known way to achieve reasonably consistent results is to reason from a very long list of precedents, which is always in the process of gradual development, with occasional major revisions.  This rational catalogue of worked examples is meant to be consistent with a hierarchy of more general principles, but it's not reducible to them.

You can see examples of this process in the "style guides" that are developed by serious projects in large-scale linguistic description, whose authors typically desire consistency because it serves the needs of current methods in machine learning.  A traditional, simple, but useful example is the Penn Treebank Tagging Guide.

Here's one small piece of that work (p. 18):

The indefinite pronouns naught, none and compounds of any-, every-, no- and some- with -one and -thing should be tagged as nouns (NN), not as pronouns (PRP). The sequence no one should be tagged no/DT one/NN;  in its hyphenated form no-one, it should be tagged NN.

The basic choice made here may or may not be the best one. In fact,  the first sentence seems ironically self-contradictory, in that it gives a list of what it calls "indefinite pronouns", and then tells us to tag them as nouns. But the point is not to settle the theoretical question one way or another, but rather to ensure a consistent treatment.  If you believe that someone/NN should really be someone/PRP instead, you can go through the Treebank and do a global replacement.  But if someone is sometimes tagged one way and sometimes another, it becomes more difficult to tell whether a proposed tag sequence is right or wrong, and therefore more difficult to develop automated taggers.

It's somewhat less obvious to me why representational consistency is a Good Thing in ordinary writing.  There might be a compelling argument from reading speed — appearances to the contrary, the catch-as-catch-can orthography of Shakespeare's day may be so much less efficient to read that it's worth the trouble to learn to spell and punctuate in the modern more-or-less consistent fashion. Whatever the truth of this idea — and I'm not sure that it's ever really been tested — I suspect that a less utilitarian motivation was historically dominant, something to do with a sense of overall order and regulation.

Similarly, I'm not entirely sure why organizations and publications want to impose a house style, which imposes a consistent set of choices in cases where overall orthographic standards are open to various alternative outcomes.  I'm not saying that having a house style is a bad thing, or arguing against it,  I'm just sightly puzzled about why people care that all the articles in notable publication X should hyphenate and abbreviate according to one set of rules, while all the articles in esteemed publication Y consistently do it a different way.

But publishers and editors and (to some extent) readers clearly do care.  And given the decision to care, you've got to find some way to deal with that Long Tail.  Hence the stylebook — and since different organizations are concerned with different pieces of the Long Tail, the profusion of stylebooks is as much a matter of extending coverage to new areas as of sectarian splitting on the treatment of old ones.

There are several logical reasons to use Ms. Protomastro's site.  Perhaps you aren't bound to follow any particular set of guidelines, but would like to be sure that your choices are somewhere in the stylistic mainstream. Or maybe the crucial benefit is access to the specialized recommendations of organizations like NASA or the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  Or maybe you just like to read style guides.

I don't really fall into any of these categories, most of the time, but I found the site fascinating anyhow.

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76 Comments »

  1. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 7:51 am

    You have a house style for the same reason McDonalds' waiters have a uniform. It's showing who's boss.

  2. Rob P. said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    It's also useful for the writers to know that whichever editor is reviewing their work, the same standards will apply. In my job, I have a few different bosses, all of whom have different styles and I have to remember for whom I'm writing to avoid excessive edits. I'd be happier with a house style guide so that I can just remember one set of arbitrary rules instead of three.

  3. David L said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    House styles for journals and magazines are basically a matter of quality control. It would be odd, to take an extreme example, for one story in a magazine to use British spelling and punctuation standards, and another to use American spelling and punctuation. So you choose one or the other — and then, having started down that road, you decide you need consistent rules on abbreviation, hyphenation, etc etc. Because if you didn't, readers would notice — believe me, they really do notice these things — and would take the inconsistencies to imply a general carelessness about the way the magazine was put together. Which would imply a sloppiness, perhaps, about the content of the magazine, not just its appearance.

    In my experience, though, editors and publishers fully acknowledge the arbitrariness of one style versus another. But any magazine likes to think it has an identity or a voice — think of the Economist versus Time, say — which partly derives from language style. To follow Mr. Jones' analogy, McDonald's has uniforms and design standards and presentation rules to make sure they're instantly distinguishable from Wendy's and Burger King.

  4. Chris Brew said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:14 am

    Rob P.'s comment hits it. The point of a house style is to provide a stable and authoritative reference point to use in negotiations between writers and editors. It is much easier to come to consensus on whether a piece of writing follows the house style than to agree about the merits of the sentences themselves.

    I can see why it would be fun to compare stylebooks if I were trying to make a point about their arbitrariness or agitate for a change in the one I am currently disenamored of, but I don't altogether get why working writers would frequently want to look beyond the current stylebook if they were simply trying to obey the Prime Directive of getting the darn thing published.

  5. Sili said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:24 am

    You have a house style for the same reason McDonalds' waiters have a uniform.

    I thought of that analogy, but it doesn't make much sense. A uniform would fit better to matters of typography. But I guess all McDonaldites are made to use the same greetings – that matches style better.

    and perhaps some day a future linguistic Peano will give them to us.

    I sure hope so. Because there'll be a future linguistic Gödel hot on his heels!

    I like the "future" bit – nice dig at Chomsky.

  6. Nick Lamb said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:38 am

    The representational consistency claim seems reasonable. I think it makes information theoretic sense – all the bits you send should be helping to deliver the message.

    We take the alphabet* for granted, but it would be possible for each individual to devise their own representation and to teach it to other individuals as necessary to communicate with them – while all speaking the same language of course.

    I think if we did that we'd never learn to "just read" in the way we take for granted from 5 year olds today. Consistent squiggle:meaning rules mean that the recognition problem can be "pushed down" to some unconscious facility and then there is no effort needed to interpret the sequences of squiggles that label everything in our environment. One of the Language Log regulars has written about the feeling of illiteracy experienced when in an environment where one does not know the dominant written script. It's not just that you don't know what's in the box based on the squiggles on the outside – it's that you can't even be sure if it's the same squiggles as on the sign you saw earlier because you're used to that interpretation being "done for you" unconsciously.

    And my guess is the same applies, at each layer, as you go "up the stack" from 'a' to 'apple' and from 'apple' to 'apple flavoured drink'. This means, you get most benefit from an alphabet, some from consistent spelling, and just a little from rules about which words get hyphens. But I have no proof, only a strong suspicion.

    * let's sidestep non-alphabetic languages for a moment because I'm not fluent in any and probably neither are most of the people who will read this.

  7. Adrian Morgan said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:59 am

    Google tells me that there are no "Which Stylebook Are You?" personality tests online.

    When I first heard about this site, I thought it might be a useful tool for creating such a test. But actually I don't think so, given that it's really for looking up specific pieces of information, and not for comparing different stylebooks from a global perspective.

    In that sense it can be contrasted to, say, a site giving all hyphenation rulings from all stylebooks in tabulated form.

  8. Helen DeWitt said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:59 am

    @David L, American publishers do like to eliminate British spelling. In a work of fiction, though, this is not necessarily a good thing. British usage differs from American in all kinds of ways; if a story uses British idiom, British spelling, punctuation and so on help to make the details of the text consistent with the setting. If the 'surface' is cleaned up to follow other conventions, this draws attention (for me, at least) to aspects of the text that were not meant to be foregrounded. An American story, similarly, which is dutifully conformed to British usage – 'honour' for 'honor', 'licence' for 'license' and so on, looks odd. It's taken for granted, I believe, that proper names retain their original spelling: American newspapers refer to the Labour Party, British papers to the Department of Defense. It's not clear to me why everything else is automatically up for grabs.

  9. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:30 am

    It would be odd, to take an extreme example, for one story in a magazine to use British spelling and punctuation standards, and another to use American spelling and punctuation.

    Nothing remotely odd about it. It's just that we have become used to the publisher attempting to expand its brand awareness.

    I can vaguely understand an individual newspaper arguing for consistent spelling, though frankly it doesn't matter a monkey's toss if you have a word spelt the American way in one paragraph and the British in the next, but to suggest you should have consistency in different titles from the same publisher is simply control-freakery gone mad.

  10. Swany said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:34 am

    Physicist who has one thermometer knows the temperature. Physicist who has two thermometers, not sure.

  11. David L said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:55 am

    Stephen Jones: "it doesn't matter a monkey's toss if you have a word spelt the American way in one paragraph and the British in the next"

    It may not matter to you, but you're in a minority. I can tell you that any magazine or newspaper that alternated Brit and US spelling in the same story would get an earful from readers. I don't know why you think of stylistic consistency as "control freakery." What if a magazine printed every story in a different typeface? Wouldn't that bug you, just a little bit?

  12. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:57 am

    It would most definitely be odd to have such different styles in the same magazine, and it seems just polemical to claim otherwise. The search for consistency may be a source of bemusement to the linguists, who are free to point out the contradictions and absurdities that result. But in a context like a magazine, or even in different books from the same publisher, those minor inconsistencies look bad; they suggest carelessness, sloppiness, like wearing mismatched socks or misaligned buttons; they imply that no one at the publisher has paid much attention, whether to those relatively minor things or to the more essential ones.

  13. Karl Weber said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:57 am

    Another reason for the usefulness of a house style is that eliminating random, meaningless variation in styles reduces potential confusion on the part of readers who might otherwise attribute significance to that variation. For example, if you don't have an arbitrary rule about when to capitalize particular words, a reader who notices the same word capitalized on page 10 and not capitalized on page 12 is likely to puzzle over what the difference means.

  14. Jim said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    Step 1./ Codify the style guide your organisation uses into input for software; latex stylesheets for hyphenation and punctuation, dictionary files for conversion between American and British spellings and so on.

    Step 2./ Feed all documents into the great machine.

    Step 3./ Everyone can relax(?)

  15. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    What if a magazine printed every story in a different typeface? Wouldn't that bug you, just a little bit?

    Yes, because it would be very much 'in your face.'

    Write out a hundred times 'Typeface and spelling aren't the same.'

    The ability of readers to get annoyed and show off their stupid petty patriotisms is in inverse proportion to the importance of the matter at hand, and it's relationship to the truth.

    We rarely get a mix of British and American spelling because spell checks are set to one or the other, but the idea that there can be more than one correct alternative seems amazingly difficult for many to grasp.

  16. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    those minor inconsistencies look bad; they suggest carelessness, sloppiness, like wearing mismatched socks or misaligned buttons; they imply that no one at the publisher has paid much attention, whether to those relatively minor things or to the more essential ones.

    The only sloppiness involved here is yours, as you haven't bothered to provide a shred of evidence for your absurd analogies.

    The vast majority of the population aren't even aware of the publisher of the book they have in front of their nose. To suggest they go around comparing the house styles of different publishers verges on the demented.

    And it's not a question of odd socks if we're talking about different books. It's a question of somebody wearing one pair of socks, and somebody wearing another.

  17. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

    For example, if you don't have an arbitrary rule about when to capitalize particular words, a reader who notices the same word capitalized on page 10 and not capitalized on page 12 is likely to puzzle over what the difference means.

    Do you seriously think the reader will notice?

    And if he did, and considered it important, then he could check it out in an encyclopedia or dictionary.

    If the decision as to whether to capitalize or not is purely arbitrary, then consistently using one variant is suggesting that there is a non-existent reason behind the rule, and will surely confuse the reader just as much.

  18. David L said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    As I said, readers do notice inconsistencies, and they do write agitated, hyperventilating letters and emails to express their annoyance, somewhat in the manner of Stephen Jones's submissions here. I've had to respond to many such complaints.

    And as I also said, no one here is claiming that one style or spelling preference is better than the other. I'm bilingual — I can spell in both UK and US styles, and use whichever is appropriate in the circumstances. But consistency, as Morten Jonsson also correctly said, is taken as an indication of the care that goes into producing a newspaper or magazine.

  19. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:15 pm

    And as I also said, no one here is claiming that one style or spelling preference is better than the other

    This is the difference between a peevologist and a copy editor. The peevologist believes his personal prejudices are based on objective reality; the copy editor knows they are nonsense but still defends them as necessary for the social order.

    We have the same with religion. Religious fundamentalists will defend their views as the gospel truth; the cynics will admit they are all mumbo-jumbo but insist that they have a useful social role in promoting cohesion and keeping the lower orders in their place.

  20. Terry Collmann said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    Nobody seems to have articulated the most important reason for having rules that maintain consistency in style: it's to stop each new person who picks up the editing baton on a piece of writing imposing their own idiosyncratic choices, and changing the spelling/punctuation to fit their own personal ideas, with all the timewasting and opportunities to introduce errors which would go along with that. If sub/copy editor No 1 thinks it's "-ise", for example, and changes the copy to reflect that view, and copy-editor No 2, who prefers "-ize", picks up the story and attempts to change everything back, the result would rapidly be, at best, everything taking twice as long as it should, and at worst, punch-ups around the copy desk.

  21. blahedo said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    I can't believe nobody here has quoted Emerson yet:

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

    although he was speaking more of content than of presentation.

    Speaking as a computer scientist and, generally, an analytical thinker, I'm going to throw in with the folks that favour style guides so that it is clear when someone is meaningfully diverging from the style vs. just exhibiting free variation—important to me in academic publication, journalistic writing, and program documentation, and undoubtedly to others in legal writing and other precision endeavours. This distinction is vastly less important in situations that don't require that kind of precision, however, and it seems entirely silly to impose it on (say) fiction writers that happen to be on contract with the same publishing house.

    I'll also note that if you exhibit some variation, others will pick it up and follow suit. I picked up a variety of British spellings and usages for fairly arbitrary reasons when I was in college, and still use many of them—some just to be contrary and some because I find them more aesthetic, obviously a totally subjective judgement. But I'm not the only one, and I seem to be an enabler; from time to time I notice students picking up some British spelling, whether testing their limits or just trying it on for size, and they know from my usage that I'm not going to dock them for no good reason.

  22. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    For sheer idiocy this from the BBC website today.Once, three major populations of gray (also spelt grey) whale existed:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8672000/8672970.stm

  23. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

    it's to stop each new person who picks up the editing baton on a piece of writing imposing their own idiosyncratic choices, and changing the spelling/punctuation to fit their own personal ideas, with all the timewasting and opportunities to introduce errors which would go along with that.

    So in order to stop every person and his dog becoming a tinpot Merriam Webster, you institutionalize the role.

    What's wrong with accepting any valid alternatives that are in the dictionary.

  24. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    so that it is clear when someone is meaningfully diverging from the style vs. just exhibiting free variation—important to me in academic publication, journalistic writing, and program documentation, and undoubtedly to others in legal writing and other precision endeavours.

    Do you seriously think your readers internalize the style guide of the publisher whose product they're consuming?

    Where a difference in semantics, spelling, punctuation or syntax represents a difference in meaning or emphasis, then this is known to speakers of the language, independent of the imaginary rulings of the style guide. If it's not widely known to competent educated speakers of the language then it is going to be taken as free variation.

    I'll go back to my original posting. Many of the aspects of style guides have nothing to do with clarity or the rules of expression of the English language, but are simply the matter of a power ploy.

    McDonalds doesn't want you to think of hamburgers. It wants you to think of McDonalds' Hamburgers. It doesn't want you to think of the individual server; it wants you to think of a company clone. Equally the publisher wishes to impose his brand and is totally opposed to commoditization for financial reasons. It wants you to think of a product from XUP for example, and not an unbranded book or article identified with the particular author.

  25. Allan Edmands said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    As Emerson famously said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." As an editor, often confronted with a partial of that quote ("Consistency is the hobgoblin …") by authors quibbling with my markup enforcing arbitrary rules from such style guidelines as Chicago Manual, I needed to remind them of the adjective "foolish" in the original. Here are my reasons for agreeing with the posts so far of Nick Lamb and David L: Content, not form, is the point of communication (at least nonfiction communication). Therefore, form (typeface, margins, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and all the other details ruled upon in style guidelines), though necessary for the infrastructure of the communication, should remain in the background in a predictable blandness; what should stand out for the intended audience is content–in the same way a featured painting stands out on an otherwise bland wall, that wall being nonetheless essential in supporting the painting. My experience has taught me that inconsistencies in these details can distract an audience from the content. The distraction might be unconscious–a slight uneasiness with the presentation–or it might involve a nitpicker reader pouncing irritably on an inconsistency and losing confidence in the quality or veracity of the content. I am sure that there are readers or listeners who are oblivious to minor inconsistencies–perhaps poster Stephen Jones is one of those (but I wager he wouldn't like me spelling his name "Steven")–but I think a responsible editor should consider the widest possible audience, which include the nitpickers and the unconsciously bothered.

  26. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    but I wager he wouldn't like me spelling his name "Steven"

    There is generally considered to be only one correct spelling of proper names in their original language, so your analogy, like pretty much every analogy the language-fiddlers have come up with in this thread, is a false one.

  27. Allan Edmands said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    I acknowledge that poster blahedo was the first to include the Emerson quote. He posted during the span of my writing my earlier post. Just one more thing about the value of us editors adhering to often arbitrary rules in a style guideline: It saves us gobs of time. Not having to make numerous decisions about little things, not having to remember how we decided on those little things pages ago, we can concentrate on helping an author present content in the most effective way. We can justifiably blame the way we treated those little things on our mission to conform to a style guideline.

  28. James Wimberley said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    Morten Jonsson: "But in a context like a magazine, or even in different books from the same publisher, those minor inconsistencies look bad."
    The two contexts are quite different. A magazine is a package, a catalogue of books is not. Unless the catalogue consists of highly standardized genre productions like pornography.
    As a hypothetical non-pornographic author, I would find it a gross impertinence for my publisher to seek to impose any preference of orthography or grammar on my work. Advice, sure. A style for references, perhaps. But I would expect to control features like line or paragraph numbering, and to have a veto on the typeface, as I would for online publishing. Is this set of expectations unrealistic?

  29. Mark F said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

    In the history of orthography, across languages, is the inconsistency of Early Modern English spelling more the exception or the norm? Was the apostle Paul consistent in his Greek spelling? If so, how consistent was the spelling of his Greek with that used in classical Greek? How consistent was medieval Arabic spelling?

    There's probably an econ paper in this somewhere.

  30. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    It saves us gobs of time. Not having to make numerous decisions about little things, not having to remember how we decided on those little things pages ago, we can concentrate on helping an author present content in the most effective way.

    It saves gobs of time doing something there is no earthly reason to do in the first place!?

    If you are a copy editor then you should know the rules of English anyway (though you may well make the odd mistake until you check it out with the corpora). So you don't have to remember how you decided something last time, because your own particular opinion is an irrelevance. The writer has decided it for you and as a proof reader you only make a suggestion if his decision is wrong, not because it doesn't fit in with some idiotic check list.

    Also the rules on the check list don't save time. Take hyphenation; no set of rules covers all cases. Does Bill Walsh recommend changing 'A high school teacher?' to 'a high-school teacher'? I doubt it. The truth is that the possibility of ambiguity still affects whether structurally identical phrases are hyphenated or not, and that is a judgement call.

    Incidentally I can think of varying reasons why stylebooks are very useful. Nobody has given a single one yet, so I'll wait for a hundred posts and then give some examples myself.

  31. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    How consistent was medieval Arabic spelling?

    What do you consider to be the medieval Arabic period?

    In Arabic one consonant and one long vowel maps to one letter in the alphabet (dots are needed to distinguish similar shapes). Short vowels, as well as dipthongs, no vowels and double letters are marked by diacritic marks. The latter obviously change because they are often not written down.

    To the best of my knowledge Arabic spelling was standardized in 786 AD. Wikipedia has an excellent article on it:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Arabic_alphabet
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Arabic_alphabet

  32. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

    @James Wimberley:

    Completely unrealistic. Publishers consider it a gross impertinence for an author to insist on idiosyncratic preferences of orthography or grammar. If you're the sole author of a book, rather than a contributor to a journal or a collection of essays, there is normally quite a bit of latitude allowed–if you prefer a variant spelling, for instance, or refuse to use the Oxford comma, or point out that there's nothing at all incorrect about using "which" where the publisher prefers "that," you'll generally, and quite properly, get your way. If you're one author among several, that latitude is much smaller. As for typeface and other questions of design, good luck. Publishers consider those their domain; they'll take suggestions, but only to be polite.

    I don't know what you mean by line or paragraph numbering. What sort of book has those, other than, say, a scholarly edition of a medieval text? And in that case the numbering wouldn't be arbitrary anyway.

  33. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

    Completely unrealistic. Publishers consider it a gross impertinence

    Exactly, it's a power play. The publisher wants his 'idiosyncratic preferences of orthography or grammar' to be the only ones adhered to.

    With regard to typeface I would consider that in a journal or book of essays from different authors, there is a reason to go for consistency, though I can see that having a different typeface according to the preferences of each author has its charms.

    Line references will change according to the edition, and whether one is dealing with a print or online edition. As they can affect the way other programs work I would tend to support the publisher having the call on that, as I would tagging for the semantic web, as in that case I consider the semantic web to be an idiocy I am well to stay clear of.

  34. John Cowan said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    "You have to give an editor something to change, or he gets fretful. After he pees in it, he likes the flavor better, so he buys it." —Robert Heinlein

    As for the BBC quotation, shouldn't it read "Once, three major populations of gray (also spelt (also spelled 'spelled') 'grey') whale existed"?

  35. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

    Well, yes, it's a power play. I don't see anything surprising or sinister about that. It's not about macho display, about who makes room for whom when you pass on the sidewalk. If you're a publisher, your business, by definition, is to produce books, and you have some right to claim you know the proper way to do that, from grammar and punctuation to typeface, binding, and cover design. If you're an author, you naturally tend to believe that actually having written the book gives you some say in how to present it to the public. So who prevails when there's conflict? The one with the power.

  36. chris said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

    So in order to stop every person and his dog becoming a tinpot Merriam Webster, you institutionalize the role.

    Tinpot Strunk, please. There's no call to go impugning the reputation of an institution that writes a perfectly good, and not at all given to prescriptivist poppycock, usage dictionary. (A usage dictionary is not a style guide — it has no guidance on punctuation, for example — but there's some overlap between the two, and I doubt if the people behind MWDEU would produce a tinpot dictatorial style guide if they produced any style guide at all.)

  37. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

    My mistake; I meant a tinpot Noah Webster, who certainly was responsible for making a large number of linguistic decisions on purely political grounds.

  38. Thor Lawrence said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

    As a working editor in the applied natural sciences for inter-governmental organizations, style guides are essential. But one goes further — a personal style guide and spelling glossary for non-standard words and phrases, such as on going vs on-going vs ongoing. When faced with a hundred thousand words collected from various sources and cobbled together by one or more scientific editors or committees, one needs a light to lead one to consistency through the fog of alternatives used by the authors and their emenders. Spell chequers (oops, checkers) are of limited use when having to respect the official name of an organization (always changed to organisation by The Economist!). Style guides also minimize the occurrence of infelicitous usages or appellations that might be politically sensitive. Ho hum, ain't we got fun!

  39. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

    In my limited personal experience of having my writing professionally edited I have found the vast majority of the changes to be utterly irrelevant. A much smaller number were improvements. The smallest group made the text appreciably worse. So I express my appreciation of the improvements, fight over the unimprovements, and quietly wonder to myself at all the time and energy spent on the irrelevant changes. They cause no direct harm, but what with all the dire talk about the economics of publishing, surely it would be a sound business decision to skip all the pointless changes and concentrate on the stuff that actually matters.

  40. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

    A quotation from Ronald Knox (1888-1957) seems relevant: it relates to the editing of his translation of the Bible:

    "You wouldn't have thought it possible for any human being to notice that you had spelt 'ill-will' with a hyphen on page 249 when you spell it without a hyphen on page 868."

    Cited in E. Waugh, _Ronald Knox (1959), p. 312.

  41. Mark F. said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:05 pm

    I think some of the responses here are pretty good examples of begging the question, if any such examples are desired. David L said:

    It would be odd, to take an extreme example, for one story in a magazine to use British spelling and punctuation standards, and another to use American spelling and punctuation.

    Well, it certainly would be odd, but to say something is odd is basically to say it differs from the norm, and Mark's question is why we have that norm. When pressed, David responded that, empirically, orthographic inconsistency bothers a lot of people, and I think that's more of an answer. In particular, it's a claim that the existence of house styles isn't really, ultimately, top down at all. The particular styles may be, but David's claim is that the standardization is there because people want it, not just because it rewards publishers' lust for power.

    This makes sense to me. Improved reading speed is one possible utilitarian benefit, but reduced distraction and annoyance is another. Once in college I had a class on the philosophy of language taught by a visiting British philosopher, and we had a discussion of meaning based around a sign saying "The car park is full." What I most remember about that is that we Americans all kept calling the parking lot a car park, because it felt more natural to harmonize our terminology, and status apparently outweighed numbers.

    Similarly, there are holy wars over code indentation in computer programming because it bugs people to look at mixed indentation conventions.

    That leaves open the question of why people want consistency. I don't think it's a peculiarity of our modern culture, which is why I was wondering how common it has been to have spelling that's as variable as it was in Elizabethan English. I hypothesize that Elizabethan spelling is at least near the variable end of the spectrum of variability.

    Instead of being purely culturally driven, I think it has to do with the nature of language. A huge amount of consistency is required for language to work at all. It seems to me that a gut desire to represent things the same way everyone else does is almost a prerequisite for learning a language. When this desire is thwarted because everyone else doesn't represent them the same way, it's frustrating. Of courses, there are forces pushing the other way, but I think there's a natural desire for standardization that arises out of a real need, even if the desire can lead to more standardization than is really necessary.

  42. Gordon Campbell said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

    A very useful metasite: all the oddities under one roof. It's interesting to see that almost every bugaboo of correct English is supported by at least one of these style guides — always using 'who' rather than 'that' for a person, not using 'healthy' to mean 'healthful', only using prepositions at the end of clauses after exhaustive exploration of alternatives, etc.

  43. JLR said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

    There is generally considered to be only one correct spelling of proper names in their original language, so your analogy, like pretty much every analogy the language-fiddlers have come up with in this thread, is a false one.

    That may be true now, but it hasn't always been true. Shakespeare didn't spell his own name consistently. Just how and why do you think we arrived at this consistency, and why is this apparently a good thing, and other forms of consistency bad?

  44. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 12:31 am

    As a working editor in the applied natural sciences for inter-governmental organizations, style guides are essential.

    Ah, the wit around here.

  45. Mark P said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 1:39 am

    The vast majority of the population aren't even aware of the publisher of the book they have in front of their nose.

    But then the vast majority don't buy books either. The book buying public is well read, almost by definition. They do care about books.

    Good editing is not about need. It's about style. Grace. Beauty. Many of us really do take note of type-faces, paper types, page layouts and poor editing decisions.

    I find it quite amusing that people above write with great clarity and precision about how there is no need to write with clarity and precision. They say one thing, while practicing the other – because they know that their message will be more powerful if they adopt sensible spelling, punctuation and structure.

    its no sin to write badly but it sure aint pretty to read. if u want to justify making things ugly – fine – but dont expect the rest of us to like it.

  46. [links] Link salad sneers at style books | jlake.com said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 7:58 am

    [...] Searching 43 stylebooks — Some of you know my very dim view of style books, speaking as a fiction writer. [...]

  47. peter said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    "What if a magazine printed every story in a different typeface? Wouldn't that bug you, just a little bit?"

    For about the last 15 years, there has been a marked trend in western design and advertising to mix together multiple type-faces and type-sizes in the same design or image. Look at the pages of brief stories and news highlights at the start and end of magazines such as Time or Newsweek, or advertising copy in most any glossy. This is almost certainly part of wider trend in our culture favoring mashing-up and layering, for example in music remixing and in grunge fashion.

    I don't recall hearing of a single angry protest from readers of newsmagazines about this promiscuous mixing of fonts.

  48. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    But Peter, that's quite different from simply printing the stories in the authors' preferred style. That mixing of typefaces and sizes is by design, from those clever people in advertising and magazine publishing. The authors of the stories have nothing to do with it; it's something imposed on their work, whether they like it or not, in just the same way that more sedate publications, such as academic journals, impose their own drab style.

  49. Terry Collmann said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    Stephen Jones: "It doesn't matter a monkey's toss if you have a word spelt the American way in one paragraph and the British in the next" – yes it does, it looks as if you don't have a clue what you are doing. You might as well say, "spel annething hau u want, it duznt mattah."

    And as I said before, if you don't impose rules and consistency, you will get people changing things back and forth to fit their own idea of what is correct, whether you, Stephen Jones, think they should or should not, with all the resultant timewasting.

    Second, "There is generally considered to be only one correct spelling of proper names in their original language" – What? I think all the millions of Stevens, Bryans, Jons, Carls, Marcs, Laurences and others will be knocking at your door forcefully very shortly.

  50. Stephen Jones said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

    You might as well say, "spel annething hau u want, it duznt mattah."

    How much longer do we have to have these brain-dead analogies.

    There are on occasion two ways of spelling a word and one of them is often more common in the US than in the UK. That is a completely different proposition than defending having no spelling at all.

    And of course we then get all the English-speaking countries apart from these two. Canadian spelling I am told is a nightmarish mixture of different publisher's house styles, and how long Indian spelling will follow the patterns for British English is unknown.

    And as I said before, if you don't impose rules and consistency

    The rule and consistency for spelling I am proposing is simple. If a spelling is accepted in a reputable dictionary, whether Webster's, American Heritage, Random House, Longmans, the COBUILD or the OED, then it is acceptable. If not it's not.

  51. Stephen Jones said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    I think all the millions of Stevens, Bryans, Jons, Carls, Marcs, Laurences and others will be knocking at your door forcefully very shortly.

    If I spelt my name 'Steven' on a passport application form I would be asking for problems and if I wrote it that way on a cheque it would probably bounce.

  52. ...just don't call me late for dinner! said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

    "If I spelt my name 'Steven' on a passport application form I would be asking for problems and if I wrote it that way on a cheque it would probably bounce."

    Apparently the passport office is full of brain-dead prescriptivist twattle.

  53. Stephen Jones said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

    Apparently the passport office is full of brain-dead prescriptivist twattle.

    No; the point is that a spelling of a proper name is unique. A proper name is not a word, though it can also be one.

    And even for normal words spelling is an entirely artificial convention, and thus perfectly fitted to prescriptivism. What you can't do is pretend more than one legitimate spelling exists when there are variations that are accepted. If the particular passport office asked for the occupation on the application form it would be insisting on 'brain-dead prescriptivist twattle' if I wrote 'labourer' and it only accepted 'laborer'. On the other hand you would rightly be corrected if you referred in an American newspaper to the British Labor (sic) Party or in a British newspaper to Labour (sic) Day.

  54. Stephen Jones said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    Sorry that should be 'pretend only one legitimate spelling exists'

  55. chris said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

    Apparently the passport office is full of brain-dead prescriptivist twattle.

    More likely they would suspect fraud (and they would be right to do so, IMO; Shakespeare aside, almost everyone now spells their own name consistently, so the substitution of another spelling variant would be a clue that the person writing the name in this particular instance is not the person ordinarily known by that name.)

  56. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

    I don't know who pretends only one legitimate spelling exists. He sounds like a straw man to me, but maybe I've just never met him. It's common to have a house preference, and to try to spell the same way within the same context, whether that's a particular book or a particular periodical. But in my experience, authors–of books, anyway–can have any spelling in Webster's if they really want it, and no hard feelings. If it's a British spelling, though, they have to really, really want it.

    I know all about alternative spellings of names, as you might guess. I do correct people a lot, but I tend to sound apologetic doing it, as if it's somehow my fault that I'm not Morton Johnson, or maybe that I'm standing in for him, and doing a poor job of it.

  57. marie-lucie said,

    May 11, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    Looking up the names of persons you know who might be on Facebook or whose names might appear on Google is an interesting exercise. Entering names and name combinations that you thought were unique or at least uncommon can turn up up dozens of identical entries. If in addition you thought that your long-lost friends might sometimes spell their own names differently, the complications would be multiplied. In the US millions of people hold passports, and hundreds of millions have driver'l licenses, and a difference of one letter in their full names could make the difference between being considered an average mild-mannered citizen and being entered on a no-fly list, or arrested as a wanted criminal (remember what happened when Edward Kennedy was refused at an airport a few years ago because someone on a no-fly list had the same name – you would not want the probability of such as situation to be multiplied by the number of "acceptable" variant spellings of your name). A similar mistake on a birth certificate can create no end of problems for the person named on it. It is true that Shakespeare and his contemporaries had more leeway in this respect, but life in general was quite different in those days too.

  58. Army1987 said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    While I understand the point of having a consistent style (as if you used ‘single quotes’ on one paragraph and “double quotes” on the next, the reader might wonder whether you're trying to convey some distinction), I think sometimes this is taken way too far. Insisting that a document cannot use both "which" and "that" to introduce restrictive relative clauses sounds as pointless as insisting that it can't use both "someone" and "somebody", and yet there's no-one advocating the latter, is there? (I'm also with Geoff Pullum in suspecting that "that" and "which" might have some slightly different semantic nuances having something to do with definiteness; indeed, the English grammar I used in high school — a surprisingly good one considering it's written in Italian by a native Italian speaker — points out that "that" is preferred after superlatives, ordinals, "next", "last" and "only", and this is likely to have something to do with Pullum's suspicion.)

  59. Terry Collmann said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    Stephen Jones: "On the other hand you would rightly be corrected if you referred in an American newspaper to the British Labor (sic) Party or in a British newspaper to Labour (sic) Day."

    I can't talk about the American newspaper, but I can tell you that you're totally wrong about the British newspaper, which would talk about Labour Day in the US, the Defence Department in Washington and so on.

    They do that to be consistent: and as I have attempted (apparently unsuccessfully) to make clear, probably the most important element in any style guide is to impose consistency, because (apart from other benefits) consistency shows that you're taking care, and from that flows trust. It doesn't matter what the choice is, so long as a choice is made, and that choice is stuck to. You might feel it's perfectly acceptable to mix mold and mould, plough and plow, center and centre indiscriminately in a publication, because they are all spellings found in reputable dictionaries. Your readers, however, consciously or unconsciously, are going to feel you just can't make your mind up.

  60. Stacey Hamilton said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    Great article, and thanks for the link. Style guide use in publishing houses is great for protecting the sanity of the copyeditors, who are all absolute control freaks.

  61. Joe said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

    Hey sorry, to come in as the thread is dying, but I had a quick question. Do the copyeditors out there have a policy for when an article is written with BrE spelling, but the author quotes an article with AmE spelling? Does consistency trump the original spelling of quoted article? Or the other way around?

  62. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    Quotes should be given as written; single quotes can be changed to double, or vice versa, to fit the context, and perhaps the initial letter can be silently capitalized or lowercased. But that's it.

    Quotes are a little like a foreign embassy on American soil–when you're inside the British embassy, you're in Britain.

  63. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

    Morten:

    But that's it.

    Really? Should obviously inconsequantial typos remain? Should a double space after terminal punctuation be faithfully preserved? How about an accidental double space between words? Should an American article with em dashes preserve spaced en dashes when quoting from a Cambridge UP source? Should a non-standard unspaced en dash (as in your post: "on American soil–when") be allowed to remain? Should guillemets be preserved in quoting from French that uses them? Should each guillemet have a space between it and the enclosed text (as in the French source)? And the space before a French semicolon? Should underlining of "et al." in a typewritten original be preserved, or converted to italics? Must bold text always be quoted as bold text? How about small caps? Should the ligature "ffi" be preserved at all costs, or may it (or must it) be replaced by "ffi" when quoted by a text that is otherwise free of such ligatures? How about German ß? Icelandic þ? The old long ſ?

    No. That's not "it".

  64. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 7:35 pm

    O, and "ø" in Scandinavian names? :)

    We'd need to check our style guide, yes?

  65. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

    Okay, you got me. No, that wasn't quite it. Quotation marks are only one example of the typographical liberties that are generally taken (except in a scholarly context, where the author is making a point of quoting exactly what was written, how it was written).

    Double space, accidental or not: Yes, this would be made a single space. The space is considered an accidental, like, say, the original font.

    Spaced en dashes, etc.: Changed to unspaced em dash. Also an accidental. (In languages that use dashes differently, like German, it would probably be best to give what the original has.)

    Guillemets: Depends. Probably preferable to keep them, with or without spaces, depending on the original.

    Space before a French semicolon: That's probably best kept, but often isn't.

    Bold text: Should be kept.

    Small caps: Should probably be kept, though there are cases when they might not, such as when the original uses small caps to begin the chapter.

    Ligatures: The ligature "ffi"–no. The publisher would consider the ligature and the letters equivalent (unlike, say, "and" and "&"). The ligatures for ae, oe, etc. might or might not be used. The German symbol (which I don't know how to type in HTML)–yes, that should be kept. Also the Icelandic one. And diacriticals, like the Scandinavian crossed O, should be retained as well.

  66. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    Fine, Morten. You answered a selection of my questions. Some of your answers are idiosyncratic, and some are indeterminate. Where they are determinate, some style guides and many editors would dispute them; whence the need for a well-founded and scrupulously detailed style guide, for any serious publication. There we agree.

  67. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

    By "a selection of my questions," you seem to be implying that I was evading you. I'll choose to assume you didn't mean to be provocative. I thought I answered all of them, but I see I missed the one about underlining "et al." in a typewritten original. Yes, that would probably be put in italics.

    If "idiosyncratic" means that that I was claiming things things to be normal practice that are really only my practice, then I have to disagree. I can only speak to my understanding of what normal practice is, in the context within which I work. But I'm not some rogue editor making it up as I go along–except to the extent that we're all making it up as we go along.

    Of course some of my answers were indeterminate. We're talking about things that there is often no one answer for. For a particular publication, yes, a style guide might give specific, invariable answers to your questions, and thousands more. But there will always be other style guides, other publications. And no matter how detailed they are, a lot of the editing will always have to be ad hoc.

    Finally, I don't know if we do agree, because I don't know what you're trying to say. That it's good to have good style guides? Sure, I can agree with that. That we need more and better and ever more intricately detailed style guides, so we can know the answers to every question? No, I can't really agree with that. But maybe you can't either.

  68. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 12, 2010 @ 10:29 pm

    Morten:

    I don't mean to be provocative for the sake of it; but the original ruling you gave was, as you have admitted, insufficient. My challenging it was relevant to the topic of this thread. You answered a selection of my challenging cases; I'm sorry if my saying so seemed to suggest evasion, but I note that many style guides are themselves either ignorant or tactically tacit concerning these thorny issues, and that is itself interesting and relevant.

    Just for completeness: you did not respond about the long ſ (sometimes problematic), nor about inconsequintial typos. Your retaining the space before the French semicolon might be judged idiosyncratic or at least inconsistent, being hard to reconcile with this in any principled way:

    Double space, accidental or not: Yes, this would be made a single space. The space is considered an accidental, like, say, the original font.

    Your response that ß ought to kept is also intriguing, especially given diversity even in German-language publication (online included), and variation across German-speaking countries. Some might say that the fate of long ſ should be decided in the same way as the fate of ß; others might disagree, and a scramble for principles might ensue.

    You have listed certain choices; others would and do choose otherwise. Often their choices are arbitrary or maddening inconsistent. I don't claim that yours are, especially.

    Finally, I thought I had made my overall meaning clear: I say that style guides for serious publishing ought to deal with these matters in fine unambiguous detail. Most do not. Of course I agree with you that "local" problems will always still arise, and they demand local solutions. I never said otherwise. The whole domain is ridden with oddities and difficulties, and I'm glad we have happened upon a demonstration of that conclusion.

  69. Morten Jonsson said,

    May 13, 2010 @ 12:01 am

    Just to clarify about the ß and long ſ: we were talking about quotations in which they appear, not about the larger issue of whether they should continue to be used at all. If I were editing a work in German, it might be an issue whether to make the quotation use the same orthography that the rest of the work does. But where the overall context is English, I don't think it's appropriate to get involved in issues like that. If the original quotation uses ß, I'm not going to change it.

    As for inconsequential typos: one alternative is to correct them using square brackets to indicate that: "inconseq[u]ential." Another is to leave them and add [sic]: "inconseqential [sic]." But I would never silently correct them; it's like changing the historical record.

    I can only wish there were a style guide that gave definitive answers to questions like this. But I'm not sure that's possible, or even desirable. Where there are legitimate disagreements, the best solution is to try to understand all sides, not look for a ruling one way or the other.

  70. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 13, 2010 @ 1:16 am

    Morten:

    But I would never silently correct them; it's like changing the historical record.

    Major style guides make no such uniform ruling. See Chicago, at 11.8, which is all about altering quotations:

    5. Obvious typographic errors may be corrected silently (without comment or sic; see 11.69) unless the passage quoted is from an older work or a manuscript source where idiosyncrasies of spelling are generally preserved. [...]

    In the next paragraph, 6, we are told that ſ quoted from early printed sources should be modernised to s. But none of this is universal. The forms ſ and ß are at the frontier between typography and orthography; or rather, there are several frontiers involved, and no style guide charts that terrain at all satisfactorily. A pity!

    Ellipsis points are also fascinating. If quoted material has three spaced points for these ( . . . ; roughly as discussed, in a quite muddled way, by Chicago), but the quoting text has the preformed ellipsis (…) or three unspaced points [which can't be shown here, because of the software!], what is to be done? Since the Byzantine conventions governing use of ellipsis points in Chicago depend on its restriction to " . . . ", there is no principled answer on which everyone can agree. The whole matter of using and quoting ellipses should be dealt with rationally in a style guide, bearing in mind local preferences among those three forms I mention. At least all the issues can be canvassed, so that a practical decision can be reached for a publication.
    Such coverage is, I maintain, both possible and desirable. But it takes the kind of sophisticated and sensitive analysis that is deployed only unevenly in existing guides.

  71. Jonathan Lundell said,

    May 14, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

    With regard to typeface I would consider that in a journal or book of essays from different authors, there is a reason to go for consistency, though I can see that having a different typeface according to the preferences of each author has its charms.

    See Michael Bierut's Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design for a single-author example of those charms.

  72. Jonathan Lundell said,

    May 14, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

    Scriptor Ignotior: yes to the thrust of your questions. It seems to me, too, that some provision must be made for the typesetting medium. I'm not going to preserve space-before-semicolon unless I have straightforward access to nonbreaking spaces ; it appears that I just may have that here ; we'll see.

  73. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    May 14, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

    Jonathan:

    Yes, & n b s p ; works here. I have made a hotkey for it, myself. But would you really use it to preserve that French space where the surrounding text is English? I'm sure most publishers don't. OUP doesn't, as you see by scrolling through this, this, this, or this.

    Style. Guides.

  74. Jonathan Lundell said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 2:02 am

    I would not, I think. And yet… (What do I type there? . then …? Logically … then ., I think.)

    I'm torn. I'm reading Wm James lately, 1900 ± 10 yr, and for reasons I don't understand, contemporary (with me) editions tend to retain the contemporary (with WJ) typography. Is it distracting or does it connect me the reader somehow to the writer? Both, no doubt. (James is fond of the digraph :—.)

    Styles work at cross purposes. I'd like to think that the author (or designer) has made choices, whether or not I'd have made the same ones.

  75. Aaron Davies said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 1:32 am

    i should think a lot of the current division of responsibilities between authors and publishers is due to historical reasons. until fifteen or twenty years ago, it wasn't really possible for the average person to have any practical experience dealing with fonts, kerning, margins, rare foreign/historical glyphs, etc. on a regular basis–you had, at a maximum, what your typewriter offered, and most people didn't even have that. anything more would be something casually noticed while reading, not something actively experimented with.

    perhaps house style guides were originally more about helping compositors set text quickly than anything else, given that they would have been working from typewriter "manuscripts", not modern word-processed files.

  76. DRF said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    I'll add my voice to the many people pointing out the reason for house style guides: Say I work for a science CRO that promises quality lab services. I want my website and written materials to look as precise and accurate as possible so that my customers will absorb the idea that my other services are also precise and accurate. Also, my employees, scientists, might not be professional-quality writers. The style sheet will let them know things like that the serial comma is optional in American English but our company's policy on it is X, that they may have seen run-on sentences and periods and commas outside the quotation marks when reading Nature (British publication), but that American English requires new sentences for independent clauses and periods and commas tucked in, things like that.

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