Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rules? What rules?

Here's one more example of why you need to know your shit before you write a column about it:

A freelancer at the Daily Pilot for Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, Calif., says she is tired of the descriptivists and prescriptivists duking it out. (That's not a bad sentiment, though, really, what's the solution?)

She points out that when stylebooks rule on issues, they are often left in the dust of quick-changing fields.
For example, AP once insisted that "on-line" should have a hyphen. It continued to insist this long after the rest of the world had opted for "online." Same with "Web site," "free-lance" and "adviser," which AP clung to long after the rest of the world left them in the dust by using "website," "freelance" and "advisor." AP caved on the first two, by the way, but holds fast to "adviser" with an "e."
AP has not caved on the first to: Web site is most definitely still two words.
What's more, when the authorities do put a foot down, it usually lands on someone's head. For example, the AP Stylebook, which is used by newspapers, and the Chicago Manual of Style, which is used by book editors, have different rules for writing numbers. The result is that, in some newspapers, a 16-year-old who has lived on 1st Street since age 9 seven years ago might have 1,000 photographs of his former home. But, in books, a sixteen-year-old who has lived on First Street since age nine, seven years ago, might have a thousand photographs of his former home and 1,288 of photographs of his current home.
That's "First Street" in AP style.

It's not good form to pick on the small papers, I know. But complaining about the intricacies of style and then getting those points wrong is detrimental.

Then again, maybe it just proves her point.


At 8:38 PM, April 01, 2005, Blogger aparker54 said...

My favorite part was "The hallowed halls of language academia are too busy stroking themselves." Seriously, though, I wonder whether the author would really like language fascists setting style across all publications and genres and forbidding all arguments on usage. That's my idea of hell.

At 1:00 PM, April 06, 2005, Blogger smart kitty said...

It's my former hometown paper. I hereby give you permission to pick on it as often as you like.

At 7:10 PM, April 10, 2005, Blogger Matt said...

Alright, alright. Hometown newspaper or not, there's no need to make fun of us. It certainly isn't nice to make fun of us when there are a grand total of two copy editors for three, sometimes four, newspapers. And I had that day off anyway.

June is very good, but when I came in and saw that she'd decided AP had changed to "website," you can imagine my surprise. We use LA Times style -- they own us -- and they've decided on "website."

What are you people doing reading a little, small-town newspaper anyway?

At 12:03 PM, April 12, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Hey, there aren't *that* many people writing about language; I take the stories where I can get them!

I wasn't trying to be too hard on the author -- or the paper. Like I said, the idea appealed to me. But the devil's in the details.


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