Archive for the ‘Editing conventions’ Category

Style sheet tyranny

July 30, 2011

Every so often I take a shot at the New York Times for adhering to some point of mechanical style, no matter what — for instance, its periodophilia in initialistic abbreviations (most recently, here), where it’s happy to disregard the ordinary practices of people and institutions who use the periodless versions of these abbreviations (even in public documents) in favor of its absurd instance on periods in things like the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and L.G.B.T.

And then there’s the serial comma, where the paper is dead set against it (Omit Needless Punctuation; yes, I know, this runs counter to its periodophilia, but rules are rules), even where it might be useful.

So yesterday (July 29), we get, in the story “In Baring Facts of Train Crash, Blogs Erode China Censorship”, after a reference to the astounding number of messages on China’s microblogs about the tragedy:

The messages are a potent amalgam of contempt for railway authorities, suspicion of government explanations and shoe-leather journalism by citizens and professionals alike.

I was struggling with the startling idea that people were suspicious of government explanations and shoe-leather journalism, when the sentence came to an end and I realized that shoe-leather journalism … was intended to be a third conjunct, parallel to contempt for railway authorities and suspicion of government authorities. A comma, doctor, a comma!

I generally use the serial comma myself (and am sometimes accused of illiteracy for doing so — how silly is that?), but I’m not doctrinaire on the matter. Still, an editor yoked to a style sheet that abjures the serial comma might have the common sense to see that there are times when that final comma could be useful.

Introducing short shots

August 20, 2009

Introducing a new feature on this blog: Short Shots, brief items with little comment. This inaugural posting has five items in it.


Periods and type size

July 4, 2009

A while back, I posted on Language Log about punctuation conventions in alphabetic abbreviations, noting that the New York Times tries to be scrupulous in the way it punctuates acronyms (which are pronounced as whole words: CAT scan) and initialisms (which are pronounced as sequences of letter names: MRI). NYT style insists on periods after each letter of an initialism (hence, M.R.I.), though with some exceptions (as in CBS), and on no periods at all in acronyms.

It seems that the New Yorker distinguishes these two types of abbreviations in the same way. But with an extra twist. From Hendrik Hertzberg’s “Talk of the Town” piece (“Stonewall Plus Forty”) in the July 6 & 13 issue (p. 24):

doma and D.A.D.T.–the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”–remain as fully in force as they were on Election Day.

Here the initialism is in ordinary caps, but the acronym is in small caps. The distinction is made, as far as I can see, throughout the magazine. A nice further touch is that initialisms that are printed without periods are also in ordinary caps rather than small caps: MTV, CNBC.

Two thousand eight

January 14, 2009

The sentence went

(1) Two thousand eight was bad for the wallet, but perhaps good for the soul.

This from a posting to, as printed in the NYT “Op-extra” (Week in Review 1/11/09, p. 12). In it, “Two thousand eight” must be understood as referring to the year 2008. Now this is entirely comprehensible, but it might give a reader a few centiseconds of pause, as would

(2) The year two thousand eight was bad for the wallet …

It’s a style sheet thing: most editors would replace (2) by

(2′) The year 2008 was bad for the wallet …

and would absolutely not allow

(1′) 2008 was bad for the wallet …

instead of (1).


Jack/Mr. Spicer

December 25, 2008

Today’s NYT has a review (by Dwight Garner) of My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian; Wesleyan University Press): “Sometimes Love Lives Alongside Loneliness”. Two things: Spicer’s poetry (which will have some surprises for people who aren’t familiar with it) and the way the review refers to Spicer (and others). (more…)


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