Faith vs. WF in the magazine world

From The Atlantic‘s March 2015 issue, “Mind the Gap: As more U.K. publications woo U.S. readers, British and American English are mixing in strange, sometimes baffling, ways” by Sophie Gilbert, beginning:

Imagine first making someone’s acquaintance, perhaps in a classroom or an office, and having him immediately and unabashedly ask you for a rubber. Is he gleefully transgressing normal social boundaries? Is he drunk? Is he brandishing a pencil?

Such are the choppy and perilous waters that have long divided American and British English.

(covered recently in my posting “Rubber trees, rubber plants”).

This is a lexical difference, but there are also spelling differences, punctuation differences, and more, all of which present difficulties for publications with writers and readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gilbert cites two cases:

For Guardian US, which launched in September 2011 as an online-only accompaniment to the almost-200-year-old British daily newspaper, the past few years have been fraught with decisions regarding which version of English to use — so much so that the publication debuted a blog, English to English, to help translate linguistic and cultural differences for confused readers. (The Guardian billed it as “therapy for our special relationship.”) “The moment we realized we had to address this thing was when we started hiring all these American reporters,” Maraithe Thomas, Guardian US’s deputy production editor, told me. “Our editor, Janine Gibson, was pretty adamant that we didn’t hire all these D.C. and New York veterans just to change their copy” into British English.

The editors chose to let Guardian US’s American writers write in American, and its British writers write in British — so the (American) national-security editor Spencer Ackerman might use spellings like organize and defense while the (English) writer Emma Brockes gets to keep slang like lairy and jollies. But when it came to proper nouns, The Guardian conceded the need for a more uniform policy, decreeing late last year that all Guardian publications, including Guardian US and Guardian Australia, would defer to local spellings. No more “Lincoln Centre” or “Labour Day.” “If we say ‘The attack on the World Trade Center put the Department of Defense at the centre of the country’s defence,’ it makes perfect sense to me and, I hope, to you,” wrote the production editor David Marsh, explaining the policy.

Other British publications aiming to reach an American audience have refused to adapt to American conventions. U.S.-based readers now account for about 52 percent of The Economist’s circulation, but the magazine continues to resolutely employ British spelling and usage.

This is a familiar issue on this blog (and Language Log):  choices between using the variants that occur in some text (being faithful to the original — Faithfulness, abbreviated to Faith) and using the variants that are appropriate for your variety (being well-formed according to your lights — Well-formedness, abbreviated to WF). There’s now an inventory of postings on Faith vs. WF in a Page on this blog.

The Economist has opted for thoroughgoing WF in spelling, even in proper names, where I find the results offensive in things like Lincoln Centre and Labour Day (in the U.S.).

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