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Calling all Grammar Schoolmarms
July 24, 2003 9:26 AM   Subscribe

"Even a brilliant piece of writing will have difficulty finding a publisher if the author has neglected to dress his manuscript decently." 'The Chicago Manual of Style' enters the 21st century. Calling all MeFi Schoolmarms! (Also: CSM New Questions & Answers)
posted by ColdChef (26 comments total)

 
*splort*
posted by divrsional at 9:40 AM on July 24, 2003


I'm so excited! I've been waiting for this edition for seven years now.

Back in '96, when computers *really* exploded, there was no guidance on style. Okay, there was, but I don't usually hold Wired magazine up as the last word on usage.

Looks like I'll be plopping some cash down.
posted by rocketman at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2003


Bah. I'm holding out for the new edition of Words Into Type. Should be out any year now.
posted by eatitlive at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2003


I'm looking forward to seeing this, too, even though it's been years since I worked at a place where Chicago was the bible. (Where I am now, we use this.) I always enjoyed Chicago, and I'm delighted to see they've gone back to a sensible approach to phrases like "out of date":
We prefer to keep such commonplace or even clichéd phrases, some of which are listed in hyphenated form in standard dictionaries, open when they appear after the noun they modify or when they are used adverbially:

step-by-step recovery (where “step-by-step” is a phrasal adjective preceding the noun it modifies)

but

feelings that were out of date (because “out of date” follows the noun it modifies)

and

walking across the continent step by step (because “step by step” is functioning as a phrasal adverb)

This is a reversal of our recommendation in the fourteenth edition of CMS, which we decided was no longer up to date.
What a stylish way of demonstrating your change of opinion!
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2003


I'm interested, too, seeing as how I'm currently using both the AP Stylebook and AMA Manual of Style. There's a surprising amount that isn't covered in either one, especially regarding online materials.
posted by me3dia at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2003


I guess it's journalistic chauvinism, but I'm still waiting for the Chicago Manual to come around on serial commas. Yeah, yeah, I understand the "clarity" argument, but every time I see an example where there would be ambiguity with a missing comma, I think "how often is that kind of construction gonna come up?" and "in such a case, you could then handle it with semi-colons."

I know, I'm an AP chauvinist. But there you have it.
posted by soyjoy at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2003


Down with Chicago! Up with AP!
posted by jjg at 1:26 PM on July 24, 2003


There's also CP style...

It never even occurred to me that the Chicago would have a Web site. I guess I just don't expect Chicago to be anything but cumbersome and a pain in the butt to use.
posted by orange swan at 1:31 PM on July 24, 2003


I'm with eatitlive. I've always preferred the low-key and intelligent perspective in WiT. But of course it's so out of date, I confess to using Chicago XIV recently.

Those bastards at Prentice. Shit or get off the pot, dudes! No doubt the P&L just doesn't look profitable against Chicago.

(No comment on the philistines using AP.)
posted by divrsional at 2:44 PM on July 24, 2003


Up with Chicago! Down with API!
posted by kirkaracha at 3:29 PM on July 24, 2003


Another Chicago devotee in da house! (Who wants to fight about the serial comma? You, you, and you? Bring it on!) Everyone in my office did a little dance when our copies arrived earlier in the week. (Incidentally, when I was a Book Expo here in L.A. earlier this summer, the good folks from Chicago were also handing out facsimiles of the 1st edition from 1906, which was quite exciting, in an incredibly language-geeky sort of way.)
posted by scody at 4:56 PM on July 24, 2003


eatitlive - you mean they updated Words into Type? The copy on my desk is dated 1948.
posted by Monk at 5:58 PM on July 24, 2003


I'm looking forward to seeing this, too, even though it's been years since I worked at a place where Chicago was the bible.

I spent a year working for the University of Chicago Press, so there was a time I could cite the Manual by chapter and verse. Ah, ellipses and single vs. double quotation marks. I still default to Chicago style, which is a problem when most people in my line of work use MLA.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:24 PM on July 24, 2003


I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
posted by Hildago at 7:32 PM on July 24, 2003


(Incidentally, when I was a Book Expo here in L.A. earlier this summer, the good folks from Chicago were also handing out facsimiles of the 1st edition from 1906, which was quite exciting, in an incredibly language-geeky sort of way.)

scody: you mean this?
posted by pmurray63 at 9:15 PM on July 24, 2003


pmurray63: Thanks, that's fantastic! I love this example under Capitalization (p. 6): "He joined the Hall [Tammany]."

scody: I've got your back on the serial comma. We'll keep those AP riffraff from causing any trouble 'round here. "Handle it with semi-colons," my semi-Irish ass!
posted by languagehat at 9:55 PM on July 24, 2003


So what manner of horrible slut am I if I'll do things however the editors of a journal tell me to?

(which is easy enough in poli-sci; just do parenthetical cites and if you get the piece accepted, the production editor will point out errors relative to their internal style guides -- hyphens and en-dashes and em-dashes and different forms of the ellipsis are their problem, not mine, unless they let me submit raw LaTeX)

(and the answer is that I'm a published horrible slut)

(but then even I might stand up and stamp me little feet in wild-eyed professorial berserker fury if a journal insisted on publishing in Comic Sans)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:18 AM on July 25, 2003


For someone who loves words and writing and reading and all of that crap as much as I do, the near-apoplectic fury that 'manuals of style' rouse in me is worrisome (and no doubt an indicator of some partially-buried psychic disturbance).

Which is one reason of many explaining why I'll never be asked to write for the sweet sweet dollars, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:32 AM on July 25, 2003


The Guardian style guide
posted by brettski at 5:56 AM on July 25, 2003


the near-apoplectic fury that 'manuals of style' rouse in me

Things like Chicago and MLA and APA are just sort of *meh* to me. There's just not much joy in reading about how to do a particular cite, or what takes what form of dash. To me, those are the boring mechanical details.

But actual usage guides -- Fowler's Modern English Usage in its manifold posthumous editions, Kingsley Amis' The King's English, Follet's Modern American Usage -- now these are fun. I can sit down with any of them for a good read. I might disagree with them some noticeable percentage of the time, but it's never the case that I can't see where they're coming from.

They're also delightfully bitchy usually; it's like sitting down with a cup of coffee and a particularly snarky issue of the Economist
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:52 AM on July 25, 2003


Who wants to fight about the serial comma? You, you, and you?

I'm confused. Did you mean me, me and me, or me and me and me?

Good one, scody, but seriously, you guys, have you ever actually found yourself in a real-life situation where you needed to use the serial comma to avoid confusion? Personally, I've written and had published over a hundred articles of one sort or another, and it hasn't come up once.

I guess (other than the rank chauvinism) the reason I favor AP is that there's an overarching concept behind the style: When there are two practically equal choices, pick the one that uses fewer characters. Granted, this is pretty much a venal, economic rationale (and yes, there are plenty of exceptions), but it's something. Chicago to me just seems so arbitrary. People talk about its "elegance" in contrast to AP, but all I can see is a patchwork of off-the-top-of-their-heads rules. Perhaps this new panel they've formed with journalists on it will elucidate some of the great themes behind this style - or, better yet, infect it with AP-style thinking!
posted by soyjoy at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2003


have you ever actually found yourself in a real-life situation where you needed to use the serial comma to avoid confusion

Yup. Commonly. To deal with lists of inline citations where more than one piece had multiple authors. It wouldn't really have worked to have had "Weingast and Marshall, Shepsle and Weingast Krehbiel Cox and McCubbins and Maltzman all..."

But most people's style would be vastly more improved by forcing them to simply cut 10--25% of their article than by insisting on either serial commas or the lack thereof.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:25 AM on July 25, 2003


I'll agree with you wholeheartedly in most cases about the less is more argument, soyjoy, but I really cannot see what's illogical about a serial comma. I see plenty that is illogical about its absence, however.
posted by divrsional at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2003


Indeed. A sentence that calls for a serial comma but does not have one looks wrong, in the same way that a misspelled word looks wrong. It offends the senses.
posted by kindall at 2:58 PM on July 25, 2003


Hear, hear, and hear!

Stav: That's why you're a writer, not an editor. You have no more reason to care about serial commas than an artist has to care about theories of representation. But try not to get apoplectic about the style guides—just leave them to those of us who enjoy the nitpicking!

Fowler's Modern English Usage in its manifold posthumous editions

Screw the manifold posthumous editions—I'll take my Fowler straight, thank you! Used-book stores are full of cheap copies of the first edition, and I urge Fowler-lovers to find and read them; the later editions just water down his inimitable style and thought.
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on July 26, 2003


ROU - although I'd reiterate that a sentence (or a phrase, as above) with so many compound elements in a list could readily be handled (and maybe should be handled) with semicolons, your example illuminates for me why Chicago is more in tune with the needs of academic writing and AP more for journalists - it would be a rare journalistic article that would make such a citation in the course of its prose. So I'll grant that there may be a logic behind Chicago that I haven't yet figured out, but will still stick to my contention that AP's is simpler, more straightforward and, uh.... better.
posted by soyjoy at 9:43 PM on July 27, 2003


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