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2008 Highlights

2008

2008: a year of sweeping political change, jarring economic upheaval, and amidst it all, the official launch of a plucky little weblog called The Abbeville Manual of Style. Most people won’t be sorry to see this year end, but for us it’ll always hold a touch of nostalgic appeal, so we thought we’d take a moment to look back at, and link back to, our favorite 2008 posts. As we noted recently, we couldn’t have picked a wilder year in which to start writing about art, publishing, and New York City, since all are currently undergoing volatile transformations. Perhaps, in hindsight, the Exploding Motorcycle Incident from this summer—which we’ve listed under “Miscellaneous” below—wasn’t so random after all; perhaps it was just a sign of the times.

Art

Travels in Italy, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Gustave Courbet: The Origin of Style

Culture Wars and Trophy Art

Whitney Museum Hijinx and Those Interstitial Spaces

Books/Publishing

The Great Debate: E-Readers

Literacy Declines; The Semicolon Trembles

Paul Simon, Author

Nobel Savages

Interviews

“Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty

Bob Duggan of Art Blog By Bob

Raymond Hammond, Editor of The New York Quarterly

Charles Pfahl, Artist

Miscellaneous

Abbeville vs. Chicago Battles

“Abbeville Gallery” Photography

Exploding Motorcycle!

The Universe

And that was the year that was.

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: Extracts

blogcapture chicago

You think Chicago’s politics could use some cleaning up these days? You should see their editing! HI-OHH! That’s right, it’s time for another battle against our formidably orange opponent, The Chicago Manual of Style. Eat your heart out, Janet Reid.

Our bone of contention today is “extracts,” otherwise known as block quotations—that is, quotations lengthy enough to require their own paragraph. Chicago claims (2.25-2.26) that these “should be double-spaced vertically and indented” regardless of whether they’re prose or poetry extracts. Indentation is all fine and well, but we’re honestly not sure where in Strunk’s name they’re getting the double-space rule. We’ve almost never seen it implemented anywhere, at least not in any publication we’re willing to consort with, because the fact is it looks pretty sloppy. The only way to get away with it is to make the font size of the extract considerably smaller than that of the main text—and even then it looks better with 1.5-line spacing. This looks to us suspiciously like what Chicago uses in their own volume.

And that’s just for prose; with poetry, our rule is never to tinker with the text in any way that might undermine the author’s intent—which means no mucking around with line spacing. In fact, in order to demonstrate the just and proper formatting of poetry extracts, as well as to express our outrage at Chicago’s subversion thereof, we have composed the following topical quatrain in the style of Pope:

Thy crimes against the Editor’s art, Chicago,

Rival the Mischief of thy Governor “Blago”;

In a just world, thou wouldst confess like Men

And trade the Editorial—for the Federal Pen.

And with that, Chicago, we say good DAY.

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: “See Also”

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Time yet again for a rousing battle against our formidably orange opponent, The Chicago Manual of Style. In Chapter 18 (“Indexes”), the Chicago editors weigh in on the subject of “Cross-References,” and in the process violate the very rules they lay down. Unfortunately, they do so in the least entertaining way possible. To wit: Chicago 18.19 declares that whenever See also references appear in an index, “See is [always] capitalized, and both words are in italics.” Yet Chapter 18 is full of See also references—none of them italicized!*

Chicago, Chicago. If you’re going to flout your own conventions, why not do so with a little bit of style? For example, your injunction against “blind cross-references” (i.e., “anyone editing an index must make certain that no See entry merely leads to another See entry”) holds much more potential for editorial mischief. Instead of a sorry bunch of unitalicized See also‘s, you could have sprinkled the entire chapter—the entire volume—with blind See references, leading unwitting readers from entry to entry, page to page, through a Borgesian nightmare labyrinth of infinite complexity! You could have built the Manual of Babel!

Ah, well…maybe they’ll let us edit the Manual one of these years. (Though as things stand, the University of Chicago Press blog won’t even respond to our invitations to battle. Come on, guys, pick up the gauntlet! It’s all in good fun. Our FAQ page even says so.) For now we’ll content ourselves with kicking off early in order to beat the Thanksgiving rush. We’ll be away tomorrow, of course, but we’ll do a post on Black Friday. Enjoy the holiday and see you then.

*UPDATE: A commenter points out that Chapter 18 is a chapter, not an index, so Chicago’s not being inconsistent here. A) This one wasn’t an oversight on our part (cross our hearts) and B) we submit that, in a larger sense, they are. What’s good for the index should be good for the chapters, by God!

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: "See Also"

blogcapture chicago

Time yet again for a rousing battle against our formidably orange opponent, The Chicago Manual of Style. In Chapter 18 (“Indexes”), the Chicago editors weigh in on the subject of “Cross-References,” and in the process violate the very rules they lay down. Unfortunately, they do so in the least entertaining way possible. To wit: Chicago 18.19 declares that whenever See also references appear in an index, “See is [always] capitalized, and both words are in italics.” Yet Chapter 18 is full of See also references—none of them italicized!*

Chicago, Chicago. If you’re going to flout your own conventions, why not do so with a little bit of style? For example, your injunction against “blind cross-references” (i.e., “anyone editing an index must make certain that no See entry merely leads to another See entry”) holds much more potential for editorial mischief. Instead of a sorry bunch of unitalicized See also‘s, you could have sprinkled the entire chapter—the entire volume—with blind See references, leading unwitting readers from entry to entry, page to page, through a Borgesian nightmare labyrinth of infinite complexity! You could have built the Manual of Babel!

Ah, well…maybe they’ll let us edit the Manual one of these years. (Though as things stand, the University of Chicago Press blog won’t even respond to our invitations to battle. Come on, guys, pick up the gauntlet! It’s all in good fun. Our FAQ page even says so.) For now we’ll content ourselves with kicking off early in order to beat the Thanksgiving rush. We’ll be away tomorrow, of course, but we’ll do a post on Black Friday. Enjoy the holiday and see you then.

*UPDATE: A commenter points out that Chapter 18 is a chapter, not an index, so Chicago’s not being inconsistent here. A) This one wasn’t an oversight on our part (cross our hearts) and B) we submit that, in a larger sense, they are. What’s good for the index should be good for the chapters, by God!

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: Cartoons

 

Ordinarily our battles against the Chicago Manual of Style are waged on the killing fields of English grammar, usage, and style, but occasionally we like to hit our opponent from a completely unexpected direction. This week no less an eminence than “Grammar Girl,” a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty, host of the wildly popular podcast on all things grammatical, provided us with an opportunity to do just that. Inspired, as she told us, by our poking fun at the Chicago Manual and the reverence accorded it by copyeditors, Ms. Fogarty has drawn the following cartoon for her blog:

Sorry, we’ve forgotten: how many satirical cartoons about Abbeville—drawn by Grammar Girl herself—has Chicago inspired? Here, give us a second to crunch the numbers and ah yes ZERO. This is a heady moral victory for the Abbeville Manual and our more enlightened, more stylish creed, one that we have every intention of lording over our orange archnemesis far into the future. Meanwhile, we are sitting at our desks in full Halloween regalia, looking forward to the debaucherous phantasmagoria of tonight’s parade, which we will be joining as soon as it sweeps by our office door. See you there!

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Poll Results; FAQ Page

The results of last week’s poll are in, and it is our knock-down drag-out mano a mano battles with the Chicago Manual of Style that have emerged as our readers’ favorite feature. Apparently all of you like to see that big orange palooka take a hit almost as much as we do. Fair enough; we will be treating you to another Abbeville vs. Chicago bout later this week. Less popular features included our “witty, civilized discussions of art” (see if we ever fish for a compliment again) and our interviews with noted art and publishing figures (we’re hoping the next interview subject we’ve got lined up will change some minds on that one). The people have spoken—or at least, resoundingly clicked—and we will be incorporating this feedback into our future content. Thanks to everyone who voted, and even though we know it’ll be anticlimactic after the excitement of an Abbeville poll, don’t forget to vote on November 4 also.

One last Monday tidbit: as you can see, site redesign is underway, and we are playing with fonts and color schemes like a fifth-grader jazzing up a book report. Apologies if the result is a bit unattractive at times, but we’re confident everything will look stylish in the end. Among the new features we’ve added is a FAQ section (see tab at top of page), so that you may quench the thirst for Abbeville Manual of  Style knowledge that has so long parched your soul.

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Strunk and White

Our editorial hearts were warmed by Jonathan Yardley’s recent paean to The Elements of Style, the classic style guide first privately published by Will Strunk in 1918 and made famous upon its republication in 1959 with “Revisions, an Introduction, and a New Chapter on Writing” by Strunk’s former student, E. B. White. Popularly and affectionately known as “Strunk and White,” the book is one of the scriptures of the English-language editing world, and unlike other such scriptures (cf. Fowler’s Dictionary; The Chicago Manual of Style), has the virtue of being incredibly short. Indeed, it is best known for its immortal Strunkian dictum: “Omit needless words”—a line that echoes in editors’ heads with more authority, and greater concision, than any of the Ten Commandments.

One expects such stern admonitions from Strunk, a career professor and grammarian; White’s involvement with the book can be more puzzling to modern readers accustomed to remembering (or imagining) him as a charming old man who sat in barnyards spinning children’s tales. And yet White was many things during his lifetime: a Cornell student, a journalist, an ad man, a sailor, a New Yorker sophisticate, and above all, a marvelous writer. His advice on diction is folksier than Strunk’s, but no less austere: “Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” Around here, we feel that rule’s honored more in the breach than the observance, but White himself rarely broke it; think of the final lines of Charlotte’s Web:

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Surely one of the best endings of any twentieth-century novel, this is also a model of Strunk-and-White plainness. We have to admit that, even now, it always makes us cry—not for the spider, of course, but for the economy of the prose.

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: Word Usage

  

Yes, it’s time for another brief wrangle with the only style guide whose jacket color can be seen from outer space: The Chicago Manual of Style. We came across a puzzling entry today in their “Word Usage” section (a simpler title would have been “Diction,” but we’ll let that go) regarding the distinctions among “odious,” “odorous,” and several similar words. “Odious” they correctly identify as meaning “hateful,” and “odorous” as meaning “detectable by smell, for better or for worse,” but they go on to confuse the issue mightily:

Odoriferous means essentially the same thing [as odorous], although it has meant “fragrant” as often as it has meant “foul”…The mistaken form odiferous is often used as a jocular equivalent of smelly, but most dictionaries don’t record it. [Word Usage, 5.202]

Really—odiferous? Who “often” uses that as a synonym for “smelly”? Foghorn Leghorn? The Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas Manual of Style? Our theory is that someone at Chicago has a specific, jocular uncle—let’s call him Uncle Toby—who tried to put that one over on them when they were kids, so that they grew up believing it was in common usage. And while we’re at it, since when is odoriferous a neutral term that can easily mean “fragrant”? We dare the Chicago editors to try this word out the next time their significant others put on perfume or cologne. “No, honey, I meant it in the non-pejorative sense!”

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Abbeville vs. Chicago Part 4: Gender Bias

 

We couldn’t resist a little one-round bout with The Chicago Manual of Style after this passage caught our eye today:

Word Usage

5.204. Gender bias. Consider the use of gender-neutral language. On the one hand, it is unacceptable to a great many reasonable readers to use the generic masculine pronoun (he in reference to no one in particular). On the other hand, it is unacceptable to a great many readers either to resort to nontraditional gimmicks to avoid the generic masculine (by using he/she or s/he, for example) or use they as a kind of singular pronoun. Either way, credibility is lost with some readers. What is wanted, in short, is a kind of invisible gender neutrality. There are many ways to achieve such language, but it takes thought and often some hard work.

Oh please, Chicago Manual. “What is wanted” is a little backbone. When an editor wants to use language that’s both harmonious-sounding and appropriately gendered, she simply goes ahead and does so.

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Abbeville vs. Chicago Part 3

Today we at Abbeville square off yet again against our older, more orange rival, The Chicago Manual of Style, in a grueling battle for style guide supremacy. (You can find previous battles here and here.) This time, the fight is personal. In one of the opening chapters of their latest edition, Chicago presumes to delineate “The Manuscript Editor’s Responsibilities.” We’re manuscript editors, and we only found out maybe two, three weeks ago that we had anything of the kind. Let’s see how our vision of our job compares to Chicago’s—and let our readers decide for themselves which vision they prefer. To arms!

Style Points: The Manuscript Editor’s Responsibilities

1.1. Manuscript editing and developmental editing. According to Chicago, “manuscript editing…requires attention to every word in a manuscript…and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.” True enough. Lightning speed, merciless logic, and mastery of self-defense are the essential survival skills of a good editor—and of a worthy opponent. So far, so good. But Chicago continues: “[Manuscript editing] is distinct from developmental editing (not discussed in this manual), which addresses more radically the content of a work.” WHOA! If you can’t handle radical editing, Chicago, you might as well not have shown up, because that’s the only kind we do.

1.2. Stages of editing. Chicago claims that “Editors usually go through a manuscript three times.” Three times? That’s all they can handle? That’s what they call “responsibility”? Maybe chumps take three glances at a manuscript and call it a day; editors go through a manuscript nine times and throw in a tenth because they love the smell of the ink, the serifs of the font, and the blind rush of power that comes from sending superfluous commas to their doom.

1.3. Discretion in substantive editing. Chicago: “A light editorial hand is nearly always more effective than a heavy one.” Abbeville: [crosses out this lame advice]

1.4. Flexibility in citation style. “Before making sweeping changes” to citations, warns Chicago, “the editor should consult the author or the publisher or both.” Actually, citations are the place where an author or publisher is least likely to notice sweeping changes. I mean, we’ve had books where we could have turned every footnote into a Snapple Fact and no one would ever have…I mean…heh…[NOTE TO OUR PUBLISHER: Kidding. – Ed.] Well, it’s the principle, anyway.

We could go on—and in future battles, we will—but it’s Friday, and right now it’s our editorial responsibility to finish up work and go have an amazing weekend. According to Chapter IX, Section 2, Rule 5.6 of The Abbeville Manual of Style, you are advised to do the same.

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