Thursday, May 5, 2016

Red pens poised? Change is coming June 1

As the vintage ad stuck in my head reminds me: “Styles change, tastes change, and I’ve changed, too.” (Tempo cigarettes, BTW.) Some changes are harder than others, especially when they involve writing style.

Language is a peculiar thing, requiring stylebooks for guidance on usage and punctuation. Many of the supposedly ironclad rules have been drilled into my head for decades; now they’re second nature.

Even senior executives tasked with reviewing copy suddenly remember what Mrs. Evans, their fourth-grade teacher, said about commas. Although, after years in corporate America, they often develop a serious case of Capitalization, convinced a Vice President is more worthy than a vice president.

Those of us who learned to type before the computer age were trained to add two spaces after a sentence-ending period. That's been a hard habit to break for many; and I frequently must do a global search-and-replace to eliminate that now unnecessary second space on copy provided by clients.

I try to stay current with style changes, but invariably some slip by or nag at my usual usage. That's why I keep renewing my online subscription to AP Stylebook, especially as digital-age language evolves. 

Over the years I’ve watched…
  • Web site become Website
  • Website become website
  • E-mail become email
  • Favorite defined as both a social-media approval button and the act of clicking that button (as a verb, to favorite)
  • The addition of meme (an idea shared widely, often in social media) and Swarm (a social network check-in service) to the official AP Stylebook
Such matters seem small in the grand scheme of things, but people can become quite adamant and unconvinced when their accustomed style changes, as the following exchange from The Chicago Manual of Style Online illustrates:
Q. Please help. I have confusion regarding the correct spacing after periods and other closing punctuation.
...About two spaces after a period. As a US Marine, I know that what’s right is right and you are wrong. I declare it once and for all aesthetically more appealing to have two spaces after a period. If you refuse to alter your bullheadedness, I will petition the commandant to allow me to take one Marine detail to conquer your organization and impose my rule. Thou shalt place two spaces after a period. Period. Semper Fidelis.
Style is changing once again, and we all need to be ready. Effective June 1, Associated Press is demoting “Internet” to “internet.” That said, World Wide Web remains capped – and, as AP reminds us, it is a subset of, not synonymous with, the internet and should not be used interchangeably in stories.

Got it? OK then. You now have the definitive word from this “must-have reference for writers, editors, students and professionals,” as the AP Stylebook website pronounces. Final answer. End of story. Until, of course, some future update appears “to reflect changes in writing style and new guidelines.”

Like cigarette advertising, language changes, too.

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