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Staying Ahead of Style Guides

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Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Were you delighted by the ruling on Internet by The Associated Press Stylebook? Effective June 1, 2016, Internet became internet, no longer capitalized. Though many reacted with trepidation, others have desired this change for the last decade or so. Susan C. Herring wrote in Wired last year that “the lower-case version will eventually win the day . . . driven by age-old principles of language change.” Because certain patterns are predictable, you can stay ahead of the game by altering style before it becomes convention.
Consistent inconsistencies in well-edited works will be understood to be deliberate.
Following popular usage helps publications appear progressive but won’t serve ones aiming for a buttoned-up style. Departing from the dicta of style guides is best done with the client, employer, and publisher on board and when it supports the tone and mission. (See the In Style column “Consistency vs. Flexibility” in Copyediting’s February−March 2015 issue.) Here are examples of safe style departures:
  • Closing compounds. The typical progression for compounds is hyphenated, open, closed. Google’s Ngram Viewer bears this out, as seatbelt and rollercoaster rise and seat belt and roller coaster dip.
  • Not overitalicizing non-English words. Consider your audience before italicizing non-English words not in your dictionary. For example, leave Sanskrit names of asanas in roman for yoga magazines and Spanish words in roman when italics might distract.
  • Using portmanteau words. Chances are you don’t blink at spork, emoticon, or mockumentary. A coinage becomes accepted when usage is wide and sustained, so if it works, use it.
  • Breaking patterns. It’s nice when style is consistent across the board, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you resisted email because it deviated from e-book, but the latter has been falling out of favor, with ebook rising steadily on the Ngram Viewer.
Pedants and sticklers may not like it, but some will find fault even when spelling, grammar, style, and usage are correct. Consistent inconsistencies in well-edited works will be understood to be deliberate.

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