Category Archives: Writer’s Bookshelf

The AP Stylebook is dropping the hyphen from “e-mail”

Last August I compared how a number of new style manuals treated tech words. In 2010, both the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition) and the AP Stylebook Online finally changed their style recommendations from “Web site” to “website,” reflecting what has long been common usage.  But there was disagreement over other terms. Most notably, Chicago and AP still used “e-mail,” but the tech/digital style manuals (Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo!) all dropped the hyphen (“email”)

Today Jim Romenesko reported that the AP Stylebook editors just announced a series of new changes— including the dropping of the hyphen from “e-mail”–  at the American Copy Editors Society Conference. Here’s an excerpt from the ACES 2011 post:

David Minthorn and Darrell Christian, editors of the AP Stylebook, brought with them to ACES 2011 in Phoenix some of the changes that will be effective as of 3 a.m. EDT Saturday, March 19.

They are:

• email, instead of e-mail. (Other “e” terms, such as e-book and e-commerce, retain the hyphen,)

• Kolkata, India, instead of Calcutta, India. To follow local style.

• cellphone, smartphone become one word. (No longer cell phone and smart phone.)

• handheld, n., hand-held, adj.

Most news organizations follow AP style, but book publishers usually follow Chicago style, so the hyphen isn’t dead yet. (See my April 2010 post for more on “e-mail” vs. “email” and Bryan Garner’s “Language Change Index.”)

The combined online Oxford English Dictionary and Historical Thesaurus has launched

The new  and improved OED website (www.oed.com) has launched, fully integrating the online Oxford English Dictionary with the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. You can now quickly and easily search, browse, and cross-reference the two works. (For background, see my earlier post on the OED relaunch and my review of the print version of the Historical Thesaurus.)

Here’s a message from the Chief Editor about the relaunch, describing some of the new changes.

If your library has a subscription to the OED Online that you can access remotely from home (like the Seattle Public Library and King County Library systems do), you can get free, full access to the OED website by entering your library card number.  If not, you can get an individual subscription for $295 a year or $29.95 a month.

Go explore!

A comparison of how the new style manuals treat tech words

Though two of the most influential style manuals (Chicago and AP) recently changed from “Web site” to  “website,” they still differ in their treatment of other tech words, which won’t be a surprise to writers and editors who work with different styles.

Below I’ve compared the current recommendations for tech words from new editions of four style and usage guides.

Chicago is the new 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (published August 2010), the authoritative style guide used by most of the publishing world.

AP is the AP Stylebook Online (updated April 2010), the style manual used by most newspapers and journalists. (The New York Times uses its own idiosyncratic style.)

Yahoo! is the Yahoo! Style Guide (published July 2010), a new style guide for digital content.

Garner is the 3rd edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage (published August 2009), an excellent book that tracks recent changes in usage and language.

The results:

  • All four agree on “website,” “World Wide Web,” and “the Internet.”
  • All except Chicago capitalize “the Web.”
  • Chicago, AP, and Garner use the hyphenated “e-mail,” but Yahoo! uses “email.”
  • Yahoo! and Garner use “webpage,” Chicago uses “web page,” and AP uses “Web page.”

It may look like consensus has finally been reached on “website,” but this is not the end of “Web site,” as it is still the standard in older works like the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (which hasn’t been updated since the 2004 3rd edition) and both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, published in 2003) and Merriam-Webster Online. (By the way, the December 2009 Apple Publications Style Guide uses “website,” “webpage,” and “email” without the hyphen.)

What does this mean for you? If you are using an older style manual, you should probably get a more current one. Which style manual you use will depend on the kind of writing, editing, or publishing you do. Chicago will likely be your primary style manual unless you work with specialized fields or content, such as technical writing, journalism, academic writing, scientific writing, etc. If you are working for a publisher or company, use the style manual and/or “house style” they specify. (Some use a hybrid, based primarily on a particular style manual but customized for internal preferences.) If you are writing for yourself, you can do what you want, but try to be both consistent and open to change. (Though Chicago is my default style manual, I’ve been using “website” and “the web” since I began this blog two years ago. Though I’m tempted to eliminate the hyphen from “e-mail,” I’m not quite ready to do so.)

So, in light of all this, are you going to make any changes to your style or try to convince your employer to modify the house style?

For more on style manuals, see my previous posts.

Update, 8/11/10: In the comments, Delf notes that though Microsoft’s published style manual hasn’t been updated since 2004, their style guide for internal use continues to be updated, and the latest version (June 30, 2010) specifies the following:

website
World Wide Web
the Internet
the web
email
webpage

Note that all of the tech/digital style guides (Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo!) have dropped the hyphen from “email,” which I don’t think we’ll see adopted quickly by Chicago and AP.

Update 3/18/11: AP has just dropped the hyphen from “e-mail.”

“The new phone book’s here!”

My print copy of the new 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style just arrived from Amazon.com, though the official publication date is not until the end of August.

Here’s an interesting change: the 16th edition of the CMOS, like the new edition of the AP Stylebook, now embraces “website” (instead of the more formal “Web site”) as well as “the web” and “web page” (see 7.76 and 7.85). For more on “Web site” vs. “website,” see my earlier post on the subject.

For a list of some of the other changes in the 16th edition, see The Subversive Copy Editor’s “16th edition Sneak Peeks and Retired Rules.”

If you prefer your reference works in digital form, see The Chicago Manual of Style Online for online subscription options.

By the way, in the package with the CMOS was another new style manual, The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World. When I have more time, it will be interesting to explore and compare the two works.

Word lovers rejoice: the Historical Thesaurus will be added to OED Online in December

Last October, I blogged at length about the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, which was only available in two massive print volumes priced just under $400 (though discounted at Amazon.com). As I wrote at the time:

Browsing this work feels strangely like time-travel. All the words from Old English to 2003—obsolete and current, including slang and dialect—have been extracted from the Oxford English Dictionary and organized by their meanings and dates of use. This places each word within its historical context, revealing how ideas and meanings emerged and the different ways they’ve been expressed through time….

The result is the world’s largest thesaurus, nearly 4000 pages of small type in two big volumes weighing fifteen pounds, with a slipcase and folding chart of the top levels of the classification system. I like print references because browsing can lead to serendipitous discoveries, but these books can be awkward to use. It’s especially frustrating when looking up a word with multiple meanings, as the index may list dozens of identification numbers, which means lots of page flipping. No, it’s not available online or on CD, though that may eventually change. I’d like to see the powers-that-be at Oxford University Press quickly add the HTOED to the online OED so both works can be used together and fully cross-referenced and searched.

Christian Kay, the editor of the HTOED, read my post and sent me an email noting that there were plans to eventually link the HTOED to the OED Online and make it available to subscribers, but that could be a couple of years away.

The good news is that you’ll only have to wait until the end of this year. John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, has announced that the OED Online will be relaunched in December 2010 with major changes, including an integrated online edition of the HTOED:

It’s now just over ten years since the OED first went online in 2000, and these ten years have seen remarkable changes in the number, style, and functionality of online reference sites. The OED Online was a ground-breaking site when it was first launched online, and it has steadily received very positive responses from users.

Later this year we are taking the opportunity to make some major changes to the OED Online, taking into account readers’ comments and our own sense of how we would like the site to develop.

When the two-volume Historical Thesaurus of the OED was published in October 2009 we were immediately asked whether it could be incorporated into the OED Online. At the time, we were testing the feasibility of this, but now we can confirm that the relaunched OED site will contain an integrated online edition of the Historical Thesaurus. This means, for instance, that a user viewing the entry for halberd (the early modern weapon combining a spear and a battle-axe) can click to reach the related entries langue de boeuf, glaive, budge, poleaxe, ox-tongue, and partisan—to list only those first recorded between 1450 and 1611.

Here are more details from the OED Online relaunch FAQs:

Q. When will the new OED site launch?

A. The OED site will relaunch in December 2010. As well as the new-look website, the regular quarterly update will be published with new words and revisions of entries across the alphabet.

Q. What new content will be added at launch?

A. The most significant new content is the integration of the Historical Thesaurus of the OED (HTOED) into OED Online. This will allow readers to click through from entries to synonyms by date. The new site will also offer publicly-available feature pieces, providing guides to the OED content and regular commentaries on topical issues in the story of the language.

Q. What new functionality will be added at launch?

A. Amongst other things users will be able to search and browse the OED by a wide variety of criteria including subject, region, usage, or language of origin; see detailed information about the major sources of the OED; view search results as a timeline; and be able personalize the resource by saving searches and entries to their own profile.

Q. Will I have to take out a new subscription to access the HTOED?

A. No, it will be fully integrated and therefore accessible as part of your current subscription.

Individuals can subscribe to the OED Online for $295 a year or $29.95 a month. But you may not need an individual subscription, as many public and university libraries subscribe to it, and some (like the Seattle Public Library) offer free online access from home if you have a library card.

For more about the HTOED, see my original post, “Time-traveling through the English language with the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Update, 11/30/2010: The new OED website has launched, and it fully integrates the Oxford English Dictionary with the Historical Thesaurus. See my new blog post for more information.

The Subversive Copy Editor and a new edition of Chicago Manual of Style

Thanks to this CopyEditing post, I just learned that Carol Saller, the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style’s Online Q&A and the author of the book The Subversive Copy Editor, has a new blog, the appropriately titled The Subversive Copy Editor Blog. Last year I wrote about Saller’s CMS Q&A and recommended her book in my post “I think someone needs a vacation….”

In related news, the new and revised 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style will be published in August 2010. Here’s an excerpt from the description, with information on what’s new in this edition:

While digital technologies have revolutionized the publishing world in the twenty-first century, one thing still remains true: The Chicago Manual of Style is the authoritative, trusted source that writers, editors, and publishers turn to for guidance on style and process. For the sixteenth edition, every aspect of coverage has been reconsidered to reflect how publishing professionals work today. Though processes may change, the Manual continues to offer the clear, well-considered style and usage advice it has for more than a century.

The sixteenth edition offers expanded information on producing electronic publications, including web-based content and e-books. An updated appendix on production and digital technology demystifies the process of electronic workflow and offers a primer on the use of XML markup, and a revised glossary includes a host of terms associated with electronic as well as print publishing. The Chicago system of documentation has been streamlined and adapted for a variety of online and digital sources….

The hardcover book will be priced at $65, but you can pre-order it from Amazon for $41.  There’s also an online version, The Chicago Manual of Style Online, which you can subscribe to for $35 per year (or $60 for two years). Subscribers will automatically receive the new content.

For more about the Chicago Manual of Style, see my post “The writer’s bookshelf (part 3).” You can also follow the Chicago Manual of Style on Twitter.

AP Stylebook surrenders the battle over “Web site” vs. “website”

I was very pleased to read today in this post on Poynter Online that the Associated Press Stylebook (the style manual used by most newspapers and journalists) is finally changing from Web site to website. This change now appears in the AP Stylebook Online and will be in the printed 2010 AP Stylebook.

It’s about time, as common usage long ago moved to website, a fact acknowledged by Bryan Garner in his excellent 2009 third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage:

website. One word, lowercase. But some stylesheets and dictionaries specify Web site (a clunker). When Web stands alone, it is capitalized. Cf. World Wide Web.

The New York Times, which has long had its own rather idiosyncratic style rules (see my 2009 post on the subject), uses Web site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to do so long after everyone else has abandoned it.

Here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style Online says about the issue:

Q. Which is currently accepted: Web site, web site, website, or Website?

A. A lot of people are writing “website.” A lot of people have come to prefer “website.” But formal usage still calls for “Web site,” in recognition of the initiatives of the World Wide Web Consortium (write “Web-site” as an adjective). The most elaborately formal modern American publication I can think of, the New Yorker, still writes “Web site,” but then again, they also write “E-mail,” “coördinate,” and “reëxamine”—they are very particular. We at Chicago are very particular too, and we recommend “Web site.” But our press as a whole is not in the position of publishing a single, unified publication—such as a magazine. It is easier to apply a set of standard rules and never vary from them for one publication, but rules applying to all sorts of books, articles, and other writing must be a little more flexible. Moreover, when a word gets used a lot it tends to lose any awkward edges (and what could be more awkward than a compound formed of one capitalized word and one lowercased word?). Each new book that appears on the scene presents an opportunity for an author to express a usage preference or to demonstrate a familiarity with changing usage.

But generally, I would recommend “Web site” for formal writing, but “website” for informal writing or friendly writing. Unless, of course, you prefer “Web site” even when you’re being friendly.

It’s a fact that style and usage change over time, though it often takes time to filter up to the guardians of language. One of the things I really like about the new edition of Garner is that he includes a “Language-Change Index” to “measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become.” His Index has five stages:

Stage 1: A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage.

Stage 2: The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage.

Stage 3: The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.

Stage 4: The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts….

Stage 5: The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics).

For example, email for e-mail is in Stage 4, and he explains in detail in the entry:

e-mail; E-mail; email. The first is the prevalent form in print sources. The letter e–short for electronic–is sometimes capitalized, but the trend is to make it lowercase. The unhyphenated email is unsightly, but it might prevail in the end. In print sources, e-mail is five times as common as email. Ultimately, the hyphen may well disappear–since that is what midword hyphens tend to do–but for the time being it is more than holding its own.

Of course the reason e-mail is much more common in print sources is that the style manuals used by print publications specify that as the correct usage.

For more on style manuals, see one of my earliest posts, The writer’s bookshelf (part 3), or some of my other posts on the subject.

Update, 8/5/10: The new 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style now embraces “website,” as I noted in the post I wrote after receiving my print copy.

Update, 8/6/10: See my new blog post, “A comparison of how the new style manuals treat tech words.”

Update, 3/18/11: AP has just dropped the hyphen from “e-mail.”

Time-traveling through the English language with the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary

Matt and I recently had the opportunity to spend some time browsing through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, which has just been published by Oxford University Press.

I began by reading the introduction. He began by looking up curse words. Once he had satisfied his curiosity about when certain very popular profanities first entered the English language, he turned his attention to the more unusual words within the inferior persons, as abused subcategory that have fallen out of use, such as windfucker (1602 to 1616), hog-rubber (1614 to 1621), chuff-cat (1653), shit-sack (1769 to 1785), and son of a sea-cook (1806 to 1977). This led to an animated discussion of the common themes that connected many of the words—comparisons to animals, sex with relatives or objects, and the inability to control one’s bowels.

That’s what happens when you put the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary within reach of a writer.

Browsing this work feels strangely like time-travel. All the words from Old English to 2003—obsolete and current, including slang and dialect—have been extracted from the Oxford English Dictionary and organized by their meanings and dates of use. This places each word within its historical context, revealing how ideas and meanings emerged and the different ways they’ve been expressed through time.

It took forty-four years to bring the HTOED to publication, overcoming what the editors politely describe as “a series of intellectual, financial, and domestic challenges.” About 800,000 meanings from the OED were transcribed onto slips of paper and organized into a unique classification system with over 236,000 categories and subcategories. A fire in 1978 would have destroyed a decade of work but for the fact that the paper slips were stored in a metal filing cabinet. They could have finished making slips by 1980, but the decision was made to add new material from the second edition of the OED and the supplements. Computers were eventually used to enter, store, and retrieve data, but much of the work continued to be done by hand.

The result is the world’s largest thesaurus, nearly 4000 pages of small type in two big volumes weighing fifteen pounds, with a slipcase and folding chart of the top levels of the classification system. I like print references because browsing can lead to serendipitous discoveries, but these books can be awkward to use. It’s especially frustrating when looking up a word with multiple meanings, as the index may list dozens of identification numbers, which means lots of page flipping. No, it’s not available online or on CD, though that may eventually change. I’d like to see the powers-that-be at Oxford University Press quickly add the HTOED to the online OED so both works can be used together and fully cross-referenced and searched.

The classification system of the HTOED is mind-bogglingly complex, forming a hierarchy of meaning from the general to the specific. At the highest level are the three main sections—the external world, the mental world, and the social world—which divide into 26 major categories, such as the earth, life, emotion, society, morality, faith, armed hostility, and communication. These branch into more detailed categories like food, clothing, people, animals, transport, love, moral evil, and sexual relations. More specific categories and subcategories lead to the synonyms and related words, which are organized by part of speech and listed chronologically with the date of the first recorded use in English and, for obsolete words, the last recorded use. (I recommend reading the “guide to the use of the thesaurus” to get your bearings.)

Each level in this hierarchy of meaning is assigned a two-digit number, which when combined creates identification numbers for every word in the thesaurus. Some words have many identification numbers because they have numerous meanings or have changed their meanings over time and thus appear in different locations within the thesaurus.

For example, in the alphabetical index, the first identification number for the noun serendipity, one of my favorite words, is 01.05.05.10.02.01|10.01, locating it in the thesaurus within these nested categories and subcategories:

01                                                         the external world
01.05                                                  existence in time and space
01.05.05                                           action/operation
01.05.05.10                                    endeavour
01.05.05.10.02                             searching/seeking
01.05.05.10.02.01 (n.)              finding/discovery (noun)
01.05.05.10.02.01|10               accidentally (subcategory)
01.05.05.10.02.01|10.01        faculty of making happy discoveries by chance

Here you’ll find that the noun serendipity was first cited in 1754. After the finding/discovery (noun) category is the finding/discovery (adjective) category, in which serendipitous (01.05.05.10.02.01|03) dates from 1958.

The HTOED will clearly be important to the study of the English language, but it also could contribute to other subjects, especially history, literature, and culture. The descriptions of life and the earth over centuries are like crash courses in the history of science and medicine. Cultural historians will look for clues in our language to our attitudes about gender, race, and class, as with the words used to describe women based on animals (mare, hen, cow, heifer, bird) or clothing (skirt, smock, petticoat). Advancements in technology are reflected in subjects like travel, tools, telecommunications, and computing. Shakespeare scholars will be able to compare the words in use during his lifetime and argue about the reasons for his word choices. Even a category like clothing can reveal shifts in morality, as when underwear became unmentionables in 1823.

I believe the HTOED could be a rich source of inspiration and world-building for writers. Historical novelists could gain insight into the past and how people lived, what they knew and believed, and how they described their own world. And they’ll know whether the words their characters are speaking were actually in use at the time. (Elizabethans would not have called a packed meal a picnic, as it was first cited in 1748.)  Fantasy writers may unearth ideas in forgotten names or descriptions of supernatural beings and mythical creatures. Poets can reintroduce lyrical and imaginative words that have fallen out of use, such as candel (Old English to 1634), luminair (1456 to 1560), or streamer (1513 to 1647), all of which once described heavenly bodies. Eclectic writers like my husband who have a strong love of word-play and enjoy collecting unusual bits of knowledge will find it addictive.

Let’s say you’d like to take advantage of the current craze for vampires or literary monster mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The HTOED can tell you when different monsters first entered our nightmares and what we called them at distinct points in time. Follow the hierarchy of categories from the external world to the supernatural to supernatural being/spirit to malignant monster (noun). Here you’ll find that the word vampyre was first cited in 1734, followed by vampire in 1796. Though vampire is still in use today, the last recorded OED citation for vampyre was in 1847. Referring to vampires as undead didn’t begin until 1897. Werewolves trace all the way back to the Old English werewulf, lycanthrope was first cited in 1813 and is still in use, but the more poetic turnskin entered the language in 1831 and exited forty years later. Oh, and zombie was first cited in 1819, two years after the death of Jane Austen.

The editors have included all those words that have been too controversial for some other dictionaries and thesauruses. Curse words, sexual slang, and offensive slurs for racial and sexual minorities appear dispassionately in their chronological place among their less inflammatory cousins. Reading certain entries may cause shock, disgust, or pain, but there is value in putting these powerful words in their historical context. If you are easily offended or prefer your works expurgated, consider yourself warned.

Priced at $395 (on sale at Amazon for $316), the HTOED will unfortunately be out of reach for many of the writers and word lovers who might appreciate it, so keep it mind if you are looking for a fabulous gift for your favorite logophile.

For more information, check out this OUP website for the HTOED and this OUP blog post with “fun facts and figures” about the work. Here’s the link to a sample page from the work at the OUP website.

UPDATE, 10/28/09: I received an email from Christian Kay, editor of the HTOED. There are indeed plans to eventually link the HTOED to the OED online and make it available to subscribers, but that could be a couple of years away. There are no plans for a CD version. So it looks like the books will be the only option for quite some time.

NEW UPDATE, 6/18/10: The Oxford English Dictionary Online will be relaunched in December 2010 and will include an integrated online edition of the Historical Thesaurus. See my blog post “Word lovers rejoice” for more information.

NEW UPDATE, 11/30/10: The new OED website has launched, fully integrating the online Oxford English Dictionary with the Historical Thesaurus. See my new blog post for more information.

The writer’s bookshelf (part 4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the references writers and editors should have on their physical or virtual bookshelf.

Usage Guides

Usage guides explain issues of confused or disputed use of the English language. The best ones provide historical perspective on usage problems, give advice on present-day usage, and provide quotations to illustrate usage and show changes over time. 

Usage can cover a wide range of issues, such as grammar, syntax, commonly confused words, capitalization, alternative spellings, and idioms.  Here are a few examples of common usage issues:

  • they/them/their as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, as in “A person can’t help their birth.”
  • “alright” vs. “all right” 
  • “shall” vs. “will”
  • “that” vs. “which”
  • “it is I” vs. “it is me”
  • “less” vs. “fewer”
  • “different than” vs. “different from”

My favorite usage guide is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. After I bought the book, I showed it to my husband, but he didn’t show much interest at the time. The next day he happened to ask me a usage question, so I grabbed the book and read him the answer. He took the book from me and started to browse through it, and ever since the book has lived on the reference shelf in his office. He even included it in his end of 2007 recommended books list for the Chasing Ray blog, and this is what he wrote:  

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage– Forget Strunk and White’s flimsy little style pamphlet. What you’ve got here is nearly a thousand pages of distilled commentary on the most vexing grammar and usage questions of our time, such as whether it’s OK to say that one thing is different than another, or whether “my friend and I” can be used as the object of a sentence. The way you judge such a book, of course, is by seeing how often it supports your side of an argument, and so far, the Dictionary has been right every time.

You can browse some sample pages using Amazon.com’s “Look Inside” feature. For those readers who took issue with the David Foster Wallace quote calling utilize a “puff-word,” here is the M-W entry for utilize, which expresses a different view:

Usage writers dislike utilize because they regard it as a needlessly long and pretentious substitute for use. They generally recommend either that it be disdained altogether or that it be used (not utilized) only when it has the meaning “to turn to practical use or account.” That is, in fact, almost invariably the meaning of utilize in actual usage:

“Scientific knowledge, for example, is developing exponentially–faster perhaps than our culture can… utilize it wisely.” –Milton S. Eisenhower, Johns Hopkins Mag., February 1966.

“…women who want to work at jobs that utilize their full potential.” — Bella S. Abzug, Saturday Rev., 7 Aug. 1976.

Use could certainly be substituted for utilize in any of these passages, but not without some loss of connotation. Utilize is a distinct word having distinct implications. More than use, it suggests a deliberate decision or effort to employ something (or someone) for a practical purpose. Its greatest sins are that it has two more syllables than use and that it ends with the dreaded -ize. It is a common word, nevertheless, and every indication is that it will continue to be one. 

 

Another good usage guide is Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner. Garner includes both word entries and essays addressing larger questions of usage and style. You can browse a few pages on Amazon.com, and Garner’s website has reviews and links to two sample pages from the work.

Here’s an interesting sample entry:  

Cummings, E.E. The poet Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), a shy man, early in career used the lowercase i for the first-person singular pronoun. (This habit, now commonplace in Internet exchanges, was highly unusual.) Cumming’s critics then began referring to him sarcastically in print as e.e.cummings. The practice stuck, and that was how his name appeared on book covers. Does this mean we should all use lowercase letters in spelling his name? Those most familiar with the man think not, and they use ordinary capitalization. Norman Friedman, the founder and then president of the E.E. Cummings Society, summed up the poet’s “philosophy of typography” this way: “that he could use caps and lowercase as he wished, but that when others referred to him by name they ought to use caps.” Spring: The Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, 1992, at 114-21. Nor is it true that Cummings legally changed his name to lowercase letters. That story appeared in the preface to a biography about Cummings, but his widow angrily denied it.

In contrast with M-W, Garner has little to say about utilize:

use; utilize; utilization. Use is the all-purpose noun and verb, ordinarily to be preferred over utilize and utilization. Utilize is both more abstract and more favorable connotatively than use.

 

There are, of course, other usage guides. Fowler and Follett each have their fans (some are particularly attached to the old 1965 second edition of Fowler, which is very British). As I’ve said before, you should compare different references, find those you like, and use them.

The writer’s bookshelf (part 3)

This is the third in an ongoing series of posts about the references writers and editors should have on their physical or virtual bookshelf.

Style Manuals

Style manuals are all about consistency in writing, editing, and publishing. Style includes rules for when to spell out numbers, how to deal with abbreviations and acronyms, which words should be capitalized, and punctuation issues (whether to use a serial comma, when to hyphenate compound words), to list only a few examples.

Anyone who writes or edits books in the U.S. needs The Chicago Manual of Style, the 15th edition (the current edition, extensively revised in 2003). The Chicago Manual of Style calls itself “the essential reference for authors, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers in any field,” and that’s not an exaggeration. Though the main focus is on the needs of writers and editors of books and journals, the new edition was revised to assist “the increasing proportion of our users who work with magazines, newsletters, corporate reports, proposals, electronic publications, Web sites and other nonbook or nonprint documents. Computer technology and the increasing use of the Internet mark almost every chapter.” If you are still using an older edition, you should upgrade to the 15th edition, as style preferences have changed over time.

The Chicago Manual of Style includes chapters on the parts of a published work, manuscript preparation and editing, proofs, rights and permissions, grammar and usage, punctuation, spelling and compounds, names and terms, numbers, foreign languages, quotations and dialogue, illustrations and captions, tables, mathematics in type, abbreviations, documentation, and indexes. It also includes appendixes on design and production (basic procedures and key terms) and the publishing process for books and journals.  A more detailed table of contents can be found on the CMS website (www.chicagomanualofstyle.org).

The Chicago Manual of Style is available in multiple formats: hardcover book (priced at $55, but available at a discount online), CD-ROM for Windows ($60), and web subscription ($30 per year at www.chicagomanualofstyle.org). The web version is fully searchable and has extra features, such as the ability to add notes, bookmark paragraphs, and create personalized style sheets.

There are also many specialized style manuals for particular types of publications:

Publishers and companies will specify which style manual they use, and many also have in-house style guides or style sheets to reflect individual company preferences and create consistency throughout all of their written material.

The writer’s bookshelf (part 2)

This is the second in an ongoing series of posts about the references writers and editors should have on their actual or virtual bookshelf.

Dictionaries

You should have– and use– a good dictionary. (You are only asking for trouble if you rely on spell-check.) A recent edition is preferable, as new words are added over time, and changes can occur in spelling, hyphenation, plurals, usage, etc. For example, the current edition of my dictionary lists the word “online” (both the adjective and adverb) as one word, no hyphen. The previous edition of the same dictionary published a decade earlier lists the word (adjective and adverb) as “on-line,” two words, with a hyphen.

There are a number of good dictionaries out there, but many copy editors prefer Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (the most recent edition, revised in 2003), which is what I use. It is available in multiple formats: hardcover book (in various bindings, generally priced $22 to $27, but available online for $15 to $20), CD-ROM (which allows you to save the entire dictionary to your computer and easily search it without ever having to load the CD again), and web subscription (for $14.95 per year at www.merriam-webstercollegiate.com). You can also get them in combination– the edition of the book I bought included the CD-ROM and a free one-year subscription to the website for a total of $27 (less than $20 online).

If you need an unabridged dictionary (most people don’t, though copy editors sometimes do), Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary is a classic, but it is expensive. It is available by web subscription at http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com for $29.95 a year.

The mother of all dictionaries is, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary, which provides the meaning and history of over half a million words, past and present. The OED tells you when each word entered the language and provides over 2.5 million quotations illustrating word usage over time. The OED is available in many formats, all of which are expensive: book form (the 20-volume full set, a two-volume abridged set), CD-ROM, and web subscription (monthly or annually) at www.oed.com. The great news is that many public libraries subscribe to it, so if you have a library card, you may be able to access it for free from your home computer through your library’s website. (For example, on the Seattle Public Library website, the OED is in their list of databases and websites, so if you enter your library card number and PIN, you’ll have full access from home.)

There are many free dictionaries on the web, but I’ll only list a few here:

  • Merriam-Webster offers free web access to an online dictionary and thesaurus at www.m-w.com, though access to their premium works (the Collegiate and Unabridged dictionaries) is by paid subscription only.
  • OneLook Dictionary Search (www.onelook.com) is a special search engine which has indexed over 1000 online dictionaries. By entering a word or phrase into one search box, you can view results from many different online dictionaries.
  • A free online dictionary and thesaurus can be found at www.yourdictionary.com.

Choose the dictionary that best suits your needs. For the casual user, a simple print or online dictionary may suffice. If you write or edit, you should use something more substantial and authoritative. If you are a professional writer or editor, check with your publisher or employer, as they may specify one as part of their house style.

The writer’s bookshelf (part 1)

Anyone who writes or edits should have at least a few essential references close at hand. This is the first in a series of posts about useful reference works for the writer’s bookshelf.

The references I’ll be posting about are in book form, though some may also be available on the web or on CD-ROM. These different formats have their strengths and weaknesses, and though I generally prefer having books I can keep within arm’s reach of my desk for easy access and browsing, you should use whatever works best for you.

Some references, such as dictionaries and thesauruses, are available in a dizzying number of editions and formats, in print and online. I may recommend a particular edition I like and use, but you should compare a few directly (pick some sample words, look them up in different works, and compare the results) and choose the ones that meet your needs. The best references are ones that have the information you need in a format you find easy to navigate so that you’ll actually use them.

Thesauruses

For years I used a classic Roget’s Thesaurus, the kind that arranged words in categories according to their meaning rather than in alphabetical order. I never gave it much thought, and I wasn’t looking for a new thesaurus, but a few years ago I discovered something much better, and I haven’t opened poor Roget’s since.

The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus has become my thesaurus of choice for a number of reasons. It contains over 300,000 synonyms, arranged alphabetically, and features contributions by working writers, including Simon Winchester, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, David Auburn, Francine Prose, Michael Dirda, and Stephin Merritt. This work places a great deal of emphasis on distinguishing between the different word choices and explaining how they should be used, making it much easier to find just the right word. I particularly like the special features, the notes and mini-essays giving a writer’s perspective on particular words and their usage, explaining fine distinctions in meaning among closely related synonyms, and clarifying easily confused words.  The book also contains concise guides to grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, as well as important points of American English usage by Bryan Garner.

Here are a few examples to give you a sense of the style and usefulness of this work:

From the “word note” for utilize*:

This is a puff-word. Since it does nothing that good old use doesn’t do, its extra letters and syllables don’t make a writer seem smarter. Rather, using utilize makes you seem like either a pompous twit or someone so insecure that he’ll use pointlessly big words in an attempt to look smart… What’s worth remembering about puff-words is something that good writing teachers spend a lot of time drumming into undergrads: “Formal writing” does not mean gratuitously fancy writing; it means clean, clear, maximally considerate writing.

From “the right word” note for plot:

If you come up with a secret plan to do something, especially with evil or mischievous intent, it’s called a plot (a plot to seize control of the company). If you get other people or groups involved in your plot, it’s called a conspiracy (a conspiracy to overthrow the government). Cabal usually applies to a small group of political conspirators (a cabal of right-wing extremists), while machination (usually plural) suggests deceit and cunning in devising a plot intended to harm someone (the machinations of the would-be assassins). An intrigue involves more complicated scheming or maneuvering than a plot and often employs underhanded methods in an attempt to gain one’s own ends (she had a passion for intrigue, particularly where romance was involved).

From the “easily confused words” note for incredible and incredulous:

Believability is at the heart of both incredible and incredulous, but there is an important distinction in the respective uses of these two adjectives. Incredible means ‘unbelievable’ or ‘not convincing’ and can be applied to a situation, statement, policy, or threat to a person: I find this testimony incredible. Incredulous means ‘disinclined to believe, skeptical’–the opposite of credulous, gullible— and is usually applied to a person’s attitude: he managed to look simultaneously incredulous and bored by her story.

This work is not only informative, it is also fun to browse through, which isn’t true of any other thesaurus I’ve ever seen.

The first edition of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus was published in 2004 and it is still in print. (The retail price is $40, but Amazon sells it for $24.) A second edition is scheduled for November 2008.

There are, of course, many other thesauruses, in print and online, so find one you like and use it.

* The word note for “utilize” was written by David Foster Wallace. To read some other word notes by him, see my September 14th blog post.