A Riddle, Wrapped in an Enigma, Wrapped in a Style Book: Exploring Style Sheets

A monk in a scriptorium. Medieval manuscript o...

A monk in a scriptorium. I could kill for a scriptorium. Editorium? Medieval manuscript of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we’ll discuss a major tool in the copy editor’s arsenal—the style sheet.  I know it took me some time before I figured out what other people’s style sheets looked like (answer: they are diverse).  I’ll provide a few examples today for newbies who aren’t sure what they’re like and for others who have simply never gotten the courage to inquire.

Copy editors develop a record called a style sheet for nearly every project.  They use it to record stylistic choices they’ve made on ambiguous issues, so that the edit is made the same way every time.  People also commonly add rules from a style book (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style) that they have a hard time remembering but know will come in handy.

In 2.52, Chicago states that “to ensure consistency, for each manuscript the editor must keep an alphabetical list of words or terms to be capitalized, italicized, hyphenated, spelled, or otherwise treated in any way unique to the manuscript.”  The manual provides a visual example in the form of fig. 2.3, which features, basically, an alphabetized list of terms as they should appear in the text.  For example, “Ungdom mot vold (rom)” indicates that instances of the foreign phrase “Ungdom mot vold,” though in a foreign language, should not be italicized.

My style sheets are less organized and economical.  Here’s an excerpt from my sheet for a project on Hinduism.
Month-day-year for dates (July 20, 1982)

Capitalize Raj.
Capitalize Ilbert Bill.
Quotation marks around Sanskrit passages in footnotes, if only to differentiate them from the translations that follow sometimes.  But don’t italicize.
Capitalize Purana.
Capitalize Vedanta.

There are also journal style sheets and house style sheets; these are more formal documents, distributed to copy editors working for a particular publishing house or on a particular journal.  Theoretically, they outline the ways in which the publisher has found it necessary to deviate from the preferred style book.  The journal style sheet for one prominent social science publication, for example, is seventeen pages long and covers issues such as the formatting of acknowledgment notes and hypothesis statements.  It states, counter to its guiding light CMoS, that editors should “use arabic numerals for 10 and above in text and titles” (the manual says 100 and above).

A book publisher for which I have taken an editing test sent me a twenty-five-page style sheet that included such dictums as “[Since we are] a secular and humanist/freethought publisher, [we] prefer BCE (Before the Common Era) to BC (Before Christ) and CE (Common Era) to AD (Anno Domini). These should be set in full caps following the year.”  Most of the sheet, however, contained basic grammar and style rules no different from normal careful usage (though enormously confusing to understand upon first reading).  Slogging through twenty-five pages of statements like “when a dependent clause is sandwiched between two main clauses, put a comma before the conjunction, after the conjunction, and after the dependent clause” is pretty stressful when all you want is to complete your editing test on time!


Ten Tips on How to Write Less Badly.

Line art representation of a Quill

For starters, use the right equipment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael C. Munger, chair of Duke University’s political science department, gives it to us straight in The Chronicle of Higher Education (and gives some good advice in the process).  Best line: “The difference between a successful scholar and a failure need not be better writing. It is often more editing.”

Arcane (Social Science) Vocabulary: NIMBY, Cultural Capital, and Pipelines

"Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" appear...

“Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” appeared in Rosalind and Helen, 1819. Probably this post doesn’t measure up. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Working in social science publishing, I encounter some pretty boring stuff.  While I like living in a world of ideas, not all of them are for everybody; as a reader, not maker, of intellectual output, my personal investment in familiarizing myself with anything that doesn’t inspire me is minimal.  There are a few exceptions, however–ideas that have intrigued, then beckoned, then set up shop in my head.  They’re words that explain things that I have encountered in my daily life and that help us express what’s going on under the hood of society (which, hopefully, is social science’s reason for being–or the good examples of it, anyhow).  Here are three.

Note: where I’m able, I’ve provided links; if articles are behind paywalls, I’ve provided full citations.

NIMBY refers to a well-documented phenomenon in local activism.  Say the newspapers that you read are full of the negative effects of fracking.  You ignore the news, day after day, year after year . . . until a company tries to set up a well in the field behind your house.  Suddenly you’re calling your senator, carrying signs in demonstrations, and chaining yourself to menacing construction equipment.  All because as soon as you heard the news, you thought to yourself, “Not In My BackYard.”  You’ll find a scholarly treatment in “Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 95, no. 1 (July 1989), pp. 1-37.

The second useful concept I’ve stumbled upon is “cultural capital.”  French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu uses this term in his masterpiece Distinction (Harvard University Press, 1984) to describe the system by which privilege functions and persists.  Bourdieu uses an economic metaphor to explain how knowledge and experience in various types of cultural fields can be used by some people to protect or increase their advantage.  For example, a white-collar professional with a college education, professional clothing, and an acquaintance with art history would have an easier time making wealthy friends at an upscale  gallery opening than, say, a worker wearing overalls whose primary expertise lies in landscaping.  In other words, the white-collar professional arrives at the gallery with more “capital” (that is, knowledge and experience) to spend than the landscaper, and can invest that capital in such a way to to advance herself in a high-status context.

The third term is the flexible concept of the “pipeline.”  Social science scholars use this word to refer to the long-term process by which careers are built (or really, as we’ll see, denied).  One example of this is the tenure pipeline for women; while women have been achieving parity in incoming classes of many graduate programs for years, the number of full professors who are female is still relatively small.  Where is the “leak” in the pipe, asks this International Studies Perspectives article?  Another common application of the term “pipeline” is to the difficulties of young, poor minorities, particularly men: the school-to-prison pipeline.  Have overly punitive, zero-tolerance policies in high schools created a direct path from the principal’s office to the courtroom?  If you’re interested in more, check out  Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios (NYU Press, 2011).

And so . . . welcome to my world!  Or at least the fun part, with the neat ideas.  I’ll censor the reams and reams of (subjectively) boring stuff I read for the benefit of you, my readers.  Your gratitude may be directed toward the comments section.

A Love Poem in an Endnote

Erin Moure

Erin Moure (Photo credit: pesbo)

I recently discovered a poem Erín Moure titled “an endnote and love song:” that plays with endnotes, Shakespearean sonnets, and form in a most surprising way.  While the piece is lovable for its sentiment alone, it takes the heart of an editor to love it for its reference to references.  I’m hoping you enjoy it as much as I did.


SAUNA 89 (sweated by В. Шекспір)

1. And if you were to leave me for my faults
2. I’d not defend my lameness, walking halt
3. and from my trust I would elide your
4. name, I would not do you wrong and speak of you
5. and (love) I’d not look at our friends who say you do
6. not merit me Your name was sweet and is no more
7. I will not speak of you
8. nor will I walk again where we once walked
9. I will not let my tongue evoke your name.
10. Your name will not be named by me, lest I profane
11. I will not name you.
12. I will not speak (too much profane)
13. You gone, I could not love me more than you
14. and if you love me not at all I love me even less
15. But oh your name. It will not touch my mouth.

I will not ( trout ) name you.

Originally received as the Poem-A-Day from the Academy of American Poets on August 16, 2013.  It can be seen online here.

Hopefully . . . Not.

Button distributed by opponents to the Save Ou...

Button distributed by opponents to the Save Our Children campaign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not long ago, I made a discovery of the sort that wakes up careful writers and editors in a cold sweat: something I had been doing all along, something that everyone does, something that felt perfectly natural . . . was incorrect.  That something was my use of the word “hopefully,” and I’m eager to see what my readers make of its reputed wrongness.

Here’s what happened: my boss, also an editor, noted wistfully that the rules for the use of “hopefully” had gone by the wayside.  Once reserved for modifying verbs, it was now used to express whole attitudes.  Oh no, I thought.  There’s a wrong way to use “hopefully”?  I looked it up in Strunk and White, and  I didn’t like what I found: “This once-useful adverb meaning ‘with hope’ has been distorted and is now widely used to mean ‘I hope’ or ‘it is to be hoped.’  Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. . . . Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable or even useful to many, it offends the ear of many others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense” (4th ed., chap. 4, p. 48).

This was a blow.  I, and virtually everyone else I knew, had been both wrong and silly this whole time?  Ouch.  But The Elements of Style is famously curmudgeonly (see my earlier entry on the topic); this prohibition, slightly revised, could just as easily apply to behind-the-times opinions on things plenty of things: “Although marriage in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable or even useful to many homosexuals, it offends the sensibilities of Anita Bryant, who does not like to see the meaning of marriage dulled or eroded.”

So was there any hope among forward-thinkers?  I checked CMoS next; surely that was more up-to-date than something written by people who died 67 and 28 years ago, respectively.  The sixteenth edition (5.220) states, “The old meaning of the word ‘in a hopeful manner’) seems unsustainable; the newer meaning (‘I hope’ or ‘it is to be hoped’) seems here to stay. But many careful writers deplore the new meaning.”  CMoS was more diplomatic, but with a nod to White’s original phrasing, it still implied that I could be classed with careless writers.

I kept searching, though.  And as with any other grammatical debate, descriptivists have an opinion, and it’s just as curmudgeonly as that of the prescriptivists, in its own way.  Last year, Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist and contributor to the excellent Chronicle of Higher Education blog Lingua Franca, wrote a resounding critique of the critics.  In “Hopefully: Five Decades of Foolishness,” he lambasts prescriptivists and makes a strong argument for many historical parallels in the development of English, including the use of “necessarily,” “clearly,” “possibly,” and “obviously.”  Victory for me!  Unless you’re so naïve as to assume that CMoS and Stunk and White are somehow more meaningful than some blog . . .

If nothing else, my little adventure with “hopefully” proves that if you google hard enough, you can find someone who agrees with you on anything.  However, since you are all educated writers and readers of the English language, I’m eager to hear my readers’ positions on this picayune but passion-inspiring issue.

Female Academics: Quit Cheating Me

citation needed

Citation needed, women of the world! (Photo credit: Dan4th)

Citations and bibliographies are, by far, my least favorite writing to copyedit.  They’re boring and rote and fiddly, and when they’re not boring and rote, they’re confusing and fiddly.  Still, at times I’m grateful to see them coming—they add up to some serious billable hours, and clients are often intensely grateful to be saved the formatting work.

But here’s a surprising bit of news from the international relations journal International Organization: my female clients may be holding out on me!  According to Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, and Barbara F. Walter, women academics cite themselves less than men do (“The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations,” published online, August 28, 2013).  This is more than just a funny little “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” quirk; in many fields, the number of citations a scholar’s article receives affects his or her tenure bid.  And, of course, the tenure pipeline affects who obtains full professorship, which in turns affects the top echelons of administrators.

So ladies, cite your own work!  My career, your career, and academic women’s careers in general will benefit if you do.

Note: The original article is behind a pay wall, so see a summary in The Economist here.

Synergize Your Vocabulary!


Businessmen (Photo credit: Voxphoto)

Does corporate jargon get on your nerves?  You’re not alone.  Even the folks of Forbes hate it, too.  They held an online contest to determine one very special thing: the most meaningless and irritating business–speak term in the world.  Here’s the result, presented as a March Madness–style bracket.  Though I decry the exclusion of synergize from the competition—I would argue it’s the classic example of this irritating problem—I can’t help agree with the final results.  Spoiler alert: neither “bleeding edge” nor “giving 110%” win.  Also, I feel I should warn you—follow the link, and you might end up wishing that businessmen were as nonverbal in real life as the business card–sniffing stuffed shirts in this classic Kids in the Hall Sketch.

What do you think, audience?  Is corporate jargon really as obfuscating as Forbes argues?  Or is this simply an example of yet another subculture’s language system being unfairly ghettoized?