Staying Ahead of Style Guides

Staying Ahead of Style Guides

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.

Nine Obscure (but Useful) Recommendations from The Chicago Manual of Style

Nine Obscure (but Useful) Recommendations from The Chicago Manual of Style

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

Reading The Chicago Manual of Style while on deadline is different from curling up with it for a leisurely read. If you haven’t had time for the latter, not to worry. I’ve compiled a list of lesser-known but useful recommendations from the sixteenth edition. [Update: Corresponding references for the 17th edition are in brackets.]



In informal writing, a comma need not follow an introductory yes or no: “Yes we can.”

  • CMS 6.39 [6.34]. In informal writing, a comma need not follow an introductory yes or no: “Yes we can.”
  • CMS 6.104 [6.106]. If one of the terms separated by a slash is an open compound, you can add a space before and after the slash to clarify word groups: exclamation point / period.
  • CMS 7.49 [7.53]. Only the first appearance of a non-English word needs to be italicized if, through repetition, readers will become familiar with it.
  • CMS 7.83 [7.87]. In compound modifiers where an adjective modifies an adjective-noun compound, the first hyphen is not necessary if the meaning is clear: late thirteenth-century music.
  • CMS 8.153 [8.154]. Proper nouns beginning with a lowercase letter followed by a capital—eBay, iTunes, iPhone—are considered capitalized and can begin a sentence or heading with the case of the initial letter intact. (Also see the In Style column “Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence” in Copyediting’s August–September 2014 issue.)
  • CMS 8.163 [8.165]. Colons and commas omitted on title pages for design reasons should be added to the titles in running text, such as the colon between the title and the subtitle.
  • CMS 8.171 [8.173]. An italicized title used within an italicized title should remain italicized and be enclosed in quotation marks. Other italicized terms (e.g., non-English words, species names, ship names) used within a title should be set in roman.
  • CMS 8.196−7 [7.61–2]. Mottos and common short signs—such as Watch Your Step—are capitalized headline style but not italicized or enclosed in quote marks.
  • CMS 14.105 [14.96]. Though a colon usually separates the main title and the subtitle in running text, it does not follow a main title that ends with a question mark or exclamation point: Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life.

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