Anyone who’s ever wielded a red pen or stared down the business end of a semicolon will know that the Abbeville Manual of Style is not the only style guide in existence. (Not yet…not yet.) Its title is, of course, an homage to the Chicago Manual of Style, companion to generations of editors and supreme resource for settling bets about grammar. But as venerable as Chicago is, it wears its authority pretty lightly; its tone sounds less like that of a militant taskmaster (I’m looking at you, Will Strunk) than the harried referee of an all-out, never-ending rugby match among editors, writers, English teachers, and half a dozen other teams. It lays down the law when it needs to, but it’s more pragmatic than idealistic, given to saying things like “Where a variant spelling carries a special connotation within a discipline, the author’s preference should be respected” (7.4). Please, people, can’t we at least agree on that much?
Yet it’s Chicago’s admirable flexibility that leaves it open to the continual second-guessing of people who know everything, like the Arbiters of Style. (If Chicago’s Manual were 100% definitive, Abbeville’s wouldn’t exist, and what kind of world would that be?) As a service to any of our readers who might wish to compare these two classic texts, we’ll be periodically spotlighting points of grammar, usage, style, and, you know, style on which they differ. Let’s start with the entirely superficial:
For the cover of its 15th and most recent edition, the Chicago Manual opted for a bold color scheme, with tones ranging from “sherbet orange” to “Highway Department traffic cone orange.” The result isn’t subtle, but it’s not unattractive either, and it makes the volume easy to locate amidst books, manuscripts, and other piled-up debris. Compared to this blazing display, the online version looks a little pale, as though it’s trying to douse all that fiery orange with a flood of cool blue.
Meanwhile, the Abbeville Manual of Style uses a restrained, yet elegant template based loosely on—what is it, WordPress?—“MistyLook by Sadish,” and features a detail from the Sistine Chapel as its banner image. When it comes to style, it’s hard to argue with Michelangelo. We’d say Abbeville emerges as the clear winner in this category, but then again, we’re biased, and design savoir-faire has always been our strong suit. Next time we’ll square off against Chicago on a more level, and far more heated, battleground: Issues of Hyphenation.