Has it really been nearly a month since I posted last? It’s been very busy here, but it didn’t seem quite that busy.
While I’m working on several other posts (a full review of WOTY 2012 candidates and the ‘winner;’ ought vs. should; what makes a good story?; unsafe casual sexism; why the phrase “gun industry officials” is under my skin this week; etc.), some of which require a fair amount of research, I’ll share a couple of recent links with you.
This one made the rounds a couple of weeks ago, so you’ve probably already seen it. If you work with language chances are this was somewhere between mildly amusing and laugh-out-loud funny to you: AP – CMS Gang War. The Onion rarely fails to entertain.
Of course, if there ever really were a war between the ‘AP Stylists’ and the ‘Chicago Mans,’ I’d put my money on Chicago. Relying on the Associated Press Stylebook over the Chicago Manual of Style in this sort of contest would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Put aside the difference in history (Chicago has been around since 1906, AP since 1953). Ignore the fact that one (Chicago) runs to over 1000 pages in tight type while the other (AP) barely manages 380 pages of useful grammar and style coverage in a type face that seems aimed at senior citizens with deteriorating eyesight. There really isn’t much comparison between the two. But then again, each volume fills a different need.
Chicago is comprehensive and systematic. It goes into every jot and tittle of manuscript preparation. Do you want to know how to format the copyright page? It’s in there. When to use an en dash instead of an em dash? It’s there. Need suggestions on Hungarian capitalization? Chicago’s got you covered. (On page 548.) There are proofreading symbols, a list of problematic words and phrases (read: ‘commonly confused words’), a chart to help with compound word formation, and many other useful features, not the least of which is a comprehensive index.
Did I mention an index? That’s one place where AP falls glaringly short — although they would probably defend the lapse by noting that, unlike CMS with its convoluted subject organization, AP is organized alphabetically: it doesn’t need an index. CMS, on the other hand, would be extremely difficult to navigate without one.
Again, while both are manuals of “style” (it says so in each title), the audience and intent is different for each. CMS is academic, meant for the authors and editors of professional and academic articles and monographs; AP is practical, meant for journalists and their editors. Both can (and are) used by many others, but that’s out of the publishers’ hands.
Like CMS, AP includes some useful features: I have found the sub-section on weather terms and the separate section on sports style especially helpful in the past. (On the other hand, the social media guide already seems quaint less than two years after it was first added.) While both guides have their value, and any good editor will have a copy of each handy, there really aren’t a lot of points of comparison between the two. If you work with both for long, AP’s history begins to show, even if you’re not familiar with it: what they really mean by ‘style’ are they conventions of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation that have been randomly cobbled together and generally agreed upon by working editors and journalists over the past three quarters of a century. Up against Chicago’s comprehensive approach, comparing AP to CMS is like comparing a collection of anecdotes to multi-year research project. Or maybe, to return to the knife at a gun fight analogy, prioritizing AP over CMS would be like going up against a tank with revolver. It’s not a fair fight.
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I said there were a couple of recent links to share, and here’s the other: what do you think of this report that during the ’70s and ’80s the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary was busier deleting words from the dictionary of record than adding them?
If you’re interested in the English language, or dictionaries, or both, you should take a minute to read this short article. The summary here of Sarah Ogilvie’s research on how the OED was put together, how universal its earlier editors tried to be, and how Robert Burchfield undermined that broadness during his tenure, is interesting stuff.
Oddly enough, I actually ran into an issue last year that made me question the thoroughness of the OED: when I was delving into the origin of the word scam (and a follow-up post), the search took me to two obscure out of print dictionaries (Chambers and Wright), both of which seemed to include a large number of dialect words that were not present in the OED. Now, perhaps, we know why.
It’s really a shame that Burchfield did this, since the OED is seen not as a guide to current English usage, but as a historical repository of all words that have ever existed in the language, past or present. Let’s hope that the effort to review and restore purged words, referenced near the end of that Guardian article, succeeds. We don’t have to keep using obsolete words, but we do need to keep them around for reference. After all, our words — and how we’ve used them — are as much a part of our history as our actions.