Thursday Three #54

  1. Here’s an interesting article about whether style guides can help you write better. Style guides are useful for learning the basic rules of language and the peculiarities of an organization or publishing house, but they won’t make your writing better. The only way to do that is to read, and read a lot.
  2. Once upon a time, “Suga Suga” by Baby Bash was my jam. Then I heard a song (Robin Schulz’s “Sugar”) that heavily borrowed from it, and I thought… wow. You know you’re getting old when songs from your high school days are getting sampled into newer songs.
  3. Random “housekeeping” thing: I haven’t been checking my email address (maggie underscore smith at live dot com) because I rarely use it anymore and it won’t let me reset the password for some odd reason. So if you’ve emailed me there, I promise I’m not ignoring you. If you need to reach me, you’ll get a much faster response if you use quickstep 7 at gmail dot com.

The Latest Style Trends

Editorial style, of course. 🙂

For my work, I don’t use the Associated Press Stylebook that often, so when they announce a change in their style, I don’t pay much attention. But this one is kind of a big deal because the two terms that are changing are used all the time. So according to AP, from now on, we’re not supposed to capitalize “Internet” and “Web” anymore because have become generic terms.

I don’t really mind lowercasing “web” because I prefer “website” instead of the clunky “Web site” (my company’s style guide uses that) or the even uglier “Website.” There are also terms like “webinar” and “webpage” (or “web page”) that make more sense lowercased and generic, so that part makes me happy. It doesn’t make sense to use both lowercase “website” and capital “Web” in the same document, which some clients prefer.

But I don’t know about lowercasing “internet.” I’m in the habit of always capitalizing it because it’s the Internet. You can practically hear the capital I when someone says it. I don’t think I ever hear anyone refer to just “internet” or “an internet” generically. I would think that a company’s own corner of the big Internet that’s shared just within that company would be an intranet, but I could be wrong. And of course, saying “internets” makes you sound like a lolcat.

So it doesn’t seem like “internet” is used to describe anything other than that big linked network of online sites. I don’t hear people use it in any other way. We don’t describe our real-life network of friends and acquaintances as an “internet” unless we’re literally referring to our social networking sites. But over time, terms do usually become more generalized, and two-word terms like “web site” (or “Web site”) do tend to first be hyphenated (web-site), then get smushed into one word (“website”) as time passes.

I’m not good with change, but we’ll see how this style trend plays out.

A Post About Style

Probably one of the most uninteresting blog titles I’ve ever come up with, but I’ve never been good at titling things. Hopefully the post will be more interesting than its title. Anyway…

When I think of style, I don’t think of fashion, accessories, jewelry, or clothing. I think of style in regards to editing and writing — like different types of style guides or ways of expressing oneself in writing. For instance, there’s Associated Press (AP) style (mostly for journalists), American Psychological Association (APA) style (mostly for social and behavioral science publications), the Chicago Manual of Style (mostly for book publishers), and countless others — most of which are enormous tomes.

What fascinates me about style is how each style guide differs on seemingly inconsequential matters like how publications are cited in a reference list. Most  laypeople don’t care too much about all the specifics of reference citation style, just as long as the reference leads them to the correct source. They don’t care whether or not the journal title is italicized, placed in quotes, initial capped, or lowercased. But editors have to care about these matters in order to ensure consistency. Quite frankly, it looks ugly and unprofessional to have a reference list with half the entries styled in APA and the other half styled in Chicago. Consistent editing style helps keep things organized and held to a certain standard.

Writing style is another matter. I would say that one of the best writing style guides is Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which has been around for a long time and weighs a fraction of other bestselling style guides. Unlike APA style, AP style, and Chicago, Elements is concise and to the point, offering guidelines geared more toward writers than editors (although it’s definitely useful for both). It doesn’t go in depth about the usage of specific words or every single use of a comma as much as other style guides do, and it doesn’t talk at all about formatting or submitting pieces for publication. Its length allows it to be easily read over and over again so that the knowledge within it can be committed to memory. Trust me, it’s difficult to read the Chicago Manual of Style from cover to cover, much less to read it over and over. It’s strictly a reference book, whereas The Elements of Style can be read for pleasure (well, it’s pleasure if you’re a nerd like me).

But style guides are just that — guides. As with any art, there are no hard and fast rules of writing fiction. (Nonfiction is another matter — I would argue that the rules/guidelines are much more strict.) Hemingway came up with his own style. Faulkner had his own style. Neither style precisely follows the guidelines in any style guide — and both are vastly different from each other — yet both of these writers have achieved fame and have published great works of literature.

So in a sense, style has two meanings in the writing/editing world. Style can be a particular writer’s unique way of putting words together. Style can also be a prescribed set of guidelines for clarity and consistency in written communication. As with music and art, in writing it’s best to know and be aware of the existing guidelines before creating your own style. Know the “rules” before you break them. 🙂