Tag Archives: manual of style

New York Times Grammar Quiz

Here on this site we like to do epic battle with The Chicago Manual of Style, but sometimes it’s fun to spar with another opponent instead. That’s why we were happy to see this recent quiz in the New York Times, which challenged smart-aleck readers to spot mistakes overlooked by the harried Times editors:

http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/03/red-pencils-ready/

We passed with flying colors, naturally, though we have to admit we didn’t catch the spelling lapse in #8. We also noticed that along with the word usage error they copped to in #6, their use of “peripatetically” in that sentence is equally weak. It’s hard for an art exhibit to be peripatetic, since that word usually retains some of its literal sense of journeying on foot. “Discursively” would have been a better choice.

How well did you do? Let us know in the Comments section. 50 bonus points if you can name an error of grammar, usage, or style that we’ve ever made. We double-dog dare you.

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Abbeville Manual of Style Poll!

Anyone using WordPress will have noticed that they’ve just teamed up with PollDaddy to create a convenient new Poll feature. Nifty! We’d like to take this as an excuse to do a little navel-gazing—and solicit some feedback from You, dear reader—with our very first Abbeville Manual of Style Poll:

If you have some other answer—if what you really love is our website reviews, or our original photography, or the way we get cold when it’s seventy-one degrees out—feel free to leave it in the Comments section. Future polls will be a little bit different, and will allow you to step into the role of Arbiter of Style by passing swift, brazen judgement on books, works of art, and the like. Start working yourself into an opinionated lather and enjoy!

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: “Effete”

 

Oh, man. Some style manuals just weren’t meant to be arbiters of style. Thumbing through the Chicago Manual‘s quaintly-named “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions,” we came across this stunning act of capitulation:

effete. Traditionally, it has meant “decadent, worn out, sterile.” Today it is often used to mean either “snobbish” or “effeminate.” Because of its ambiguity, the word is best avoided altogether.

That’s right: rather than argue for one definition or the other, or attempt to reconcile the two, Chicago thinks we should simply eliminate the word from the language! Just forget, as a people, that it ever existed! One can imagine the poor editor who wrote this sitting at his desk, worn down by life’s stormy vicissitudes and one too many battles over punctuation, clutching his head and crying, “Damn you, ‘effete’! You’ve caused me too much heartache! Just go—go, and never darken my door again!”

But as we look ahead to the VP debate tonight, we ask our readers: is this truly the American way? Did Teddy Roosevelt surrender like this when he led his men up San Juan Hill? Did Chicago itself surrender after the whole place was nearly burned down by a cow? And anyway, couldn’t “effete” still be used for phenomena to which both definitions apply—things that are decadent, worn out, snobbish, and effeminate all at once? Like Horace Engdahl?

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: "Effete"

 

Oh, man. Some style manuals just weren’t meant to be arbiters of style. Thumbing through the Chicago Manual‘s quaintly-named “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions,” we came across this stunning act of capitulation:

effete. Traditionally, it has meant “decadent, worn out, sterile.” Today it is often used to mean either “snobbish” or “effeminate.” Because of its ambiguity, the word is best avoided altogether.

That’s right: rather than argue for one definition or the other, or attempt to reconcile the two, Chicago thinks we should simply eliminate the word from the language! Just forget, as a people, that it ever existed! One can imagine the poor editor who wrote this sitting at his desk, worn down by life’s stormy vicissitudes and one too many battles over punctuation, clutching his head and crying, “Damn you, ‘effete’! You’ve caused me too much heartache! Just go—go, and never darken my door again!”

But as we look ahead to the VP debate tonight, we ask our readers: is this truly the American way? Did Teddy Roosevelt surrender like this when he led his men up San Juan Hill? Did Chicago itself surrender after the whole place was nearly burned down by a cow? And anyway, couldn’t “effete” still be used for phenomena to which both definitions apply—things that are decadent, worn out, snobbish, and effeminate all at once? Like Horace Engdahl?

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Abbeville vs. Chicago 2: Hyphenation Domination

      vs.  

To-day we here at Abbeville are squaring off against the reigning heavyweight champion of style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style, over one of the most devilishly contentious punctuation marks ever invented: the hyphen. It’s going to be a tough fight, but we’re prepared to face that big orange style Goliath armed with nothing but naked hubris and the slingshot of our editorial whim. In fact, we’ve thrown down the gauntlet in the very first word of this post by employing a deliberately archaic hyphen purely for style’s sake, and you know what? We might do the same thing to-morrow.

All right, enough trash talk. Let the battle begin.

Hyphenation

1.1. Multiple hyphens. Chicago claims that “although two or more hyphens are standard in such phrases as a matter-of-fact approach or an over-the-counter drug, there is no consensus—nor need there be—on the need for more than one hyphen in longer and less common adjectival compounds.” Wait, sorry: “nor need there be“? Oh, there need be, Chicago. What’s the fun of having grammatical authority if you can’t wield it like a truncheon? The Abbeville in-house style guide is crisp and clear on this point: “Use hyphens with compound adjectives before a noun.” Boom. Done. Makes Will Strunk look like a rambling old man. But wait, there’s one exception. Chicago says that “early nineteenth-century literature and early-nineteenth-century literature are both in good standing.” Not with us! We choose the first formulation, because the second just rubs us the wrong way. First round winner: Abbeville.

1.2. Adverbs ending in “ly.” Chicago lays down the law on this one. “Compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible.” We tried hard to come up with some clever example of ambiguity to prove them wrong, but a formulation like “the bravely-borne illness of the tightly-wound tailor” looks a little la-di-da and suspicious even to us. Winner: Chicago.

1.3. The trend toward closed compounds. Chicago: “With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed.” Yeah, but LESS CHARMING in the process. We reserve the right to subject our readers to all the deliberately antiquated verbal frippery they can handle. If we want to go on-line today and e-mail you about a level-headed book-worm we know, we don’t expect anyone to stop us. Likewise, we reserve the right to play Joyce and Faulkner and throw a few hyphennegating highmodernist compounds your way (cf. “artblogosphere“). Not that we’ll usually do any of these things; we just like having the option. Winner: clearly us.

FINAL: Abbeville 2, Chicago 1

Chicago put up a good fight, but in the end, our never-flinching, ambiguity-loathing, style-loving approach to hyphenation has won the day. In celebration, we-are-going-to-use-this-sentence-to-take-the-hyphenation-equivalent-of-a-victory-lap. Next time on Abbeville vs. Chicago, we’ll duke it out over their chapter “The Manuscript Editor’s Responsibilities,” which we hope include mixing a good stiff drink at the end of the manuscript editor’s day. Good-night!

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Abbeville vs. Chicago: Part 1

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:

Appearance

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 onwhat 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.

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Introduction

Dear Readers,

If only the world were more like an Abbeville Press book. Beautifully conceived and executed, tasteful and elegant, comprehensive and clear…instead we have this vague, awkward, confusing, poorly punctuated place that would take a few million years of editing to set straight, not to mention a major design overhaul.

Naturally, this kind of sloppiness bothers Abbeville. To quote our mission statement: “The company believes that publishing illustrated books is a distinct specialty, requiring exacting standards of editorial, design, and production savoir-faire. Abbeville is dedicated to extending this standard of excellence throughout its diverse list, its relationships with booksellers, and its partnerships in distributing.” But what about extending this credo to life? Don’t personal relationships demand excellence? Doesn’t good taste in art or music require exacting standards? Don’t cocktail parties require savoir-faire?

In order to lay down some much-needed guidelines in this rough-draft world, we at Abbeville have created a Manual of Style. This Manual will cover not only Abbeville’s immediate area of expertise, i.e., art and illustrated books, but any subject on which our opinions, experiences, and tastes might be relevant or helpful: publishing, the arts, events, trends, New York City, the universe, and so on. To avoid overwhelming the reader, the Manual will not be presented all at once in its full glory, but in an ongoing series of excerpts posted by its contributors on a semi-weekly basis. Some excerpts will contain “Style Points”—brief pronouncements on various pressing issues—while others will contain reviews, anecdotes, company news, and more. Taken as a whole, the Manual will provide an indispensable guide to redefining your world, Abbeville-style.

Style Points

Nomenclature

1.1. The Manual of Style is a “manual,” not a “blog.” The word “manual” conveys authority, practicality, and concision. The word “blog” sounds like a dump truck landing in a swamp.

1.2. The contributors to the Manual are not “bloggers,” nor are they “editors.” They are “Arbiters of Style.” Their names are: Austin Allen, Briana Green, Erin Dress, Megan Malta, and Michaelann Millrood.

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