Tuesday, July 14, 2009

strictly for the style geeks

Reuters announced this week that its Stylebook has just gone online. No subscription necessary. Which is good news for anyone who finds it fun to read between the lines of arcane style rules.

For those of you in careers that leave you blissfully unfamiliar with stylebooks, they are dictionary-like tomes of alphabetized rules -- agreed upon by a quorum of editors -- regarding such matters as when you abbreviate, when you capitalize, when you use numerals, when you write out a number and what words to use when.

The rules have to do with brevity and precision, are often at odds with some of the writing rules you learned in English class, and sometimes tell you something about changing societal values. That's where it starts getting fun. For example, several years back, AP Style dictated that "internet" begin with a capital I. Now common usage has demoted it to lower case.

What Reuters brings to the table is a global sensibility. For example:

We take a global approach to the spelling of many words. Often, it’s the United States against the world. For instance, our preferred style is “artefact,” except in the U.S., where it’s artifact. Same goes for axe and axeing — our standards for most of the world — which become ax and axing in the U.S. There’s also “backwards,” which loses its “s” in American stories, and “leukaemia,” which loses that first “a” in the U.S. There’s plenty more: tyre and tire, titbit and tidbit, and defence and defense.

In the world of diplomacy, economics and academe, the G3 is Germany, Japan and the U.S.; the G5 extends membership to France and the U.K.; G7 grows the club to Canada and Italy; make it G8 with Russia; G10 adds Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. As for the G24, G30 and G77, you’ll have to look for yourself (we’ve got entries for them, too).

There are slang words to avoid (posh — though one former Spice Girl might object) and a number of common misspellings (Viet Cong, not Vietcong; ventricle, not ventrical; machinegun, not machine gun; and ketchup, not catchup or catsup).

What's most intersting, though, is the consideration given to controversial, or loaded, words, so that journalists can leave it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. Case in point: "Terrorism"

“We may refer without attribution to terrorism and counter-terrorism in general but do not refer to specific events as terrorism. Nor do we use the adjective word terrorist without attribution to qualify specific individuals, groups or events. … Report the subjects of news stories objectively, their actions, identity and background. Aim for a dispassionate use of language so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts. Seek to use more specific terms like “bomber” or “bombing”, “hijacker” or “hijacking”, “attacker” or “attacks”, “gunman” or “gunmen” etc.”

No comments: