Archive for the ‘style guide’ Category

style guide: Atlanticisms

typewriter_jpg-288x300Atlanticisms are American and British dialect words that are understood on both sides of the Atlantic:

  • ad
  • add up
  • air matress
  • attic
  • autumn
  • ballpoint pen
  • Band-Aid
  • bar – not pub
  • bell-boy
  • big spender – not high roller
  • bill – not check (restaurant)
  • billboard – not hoarding
  • bird-watcher – not birder
  • blackboard
  • blackjack – not pontoon (card game)
  • bleach – not Clorox
  • blue-collar
  • boarder – not lodger
  • bring up – not raise (a child)
  • broke – out of money
  • broken – not busted
  • bulrush – not cattail
  • cafeteria
  • call – not ring up (telephone)
  • can opener
  • capital letters – not block letters
  • chickpea – not garbanzo bean
  • chief of police – not sheriff
  • cigarette butt
  • cinema
  • coffin – not casket
  • cop
  • cottom swab – not Q-Tip
  • crayfish
  • crematorium
  • cupboard
  • cupcake
  • curse – not cuss
  • curt – not snippy
  • curtains
  • dad
  • deadlock – not stand-off
  • dessert
  • dishcloth
  • drainpipe
  • drinking fountain
  • dress – not frock
  • dressing-table – not vanity
  • dump – not landfill
  • evening shift – not swing shift
  • extra-large – not outsize
  • fabulous – not royal
  • failed – not bombed
  • field – not pitch (sporting term)
  • fill out – not fill in a form
  • fire engine
  • firefly – not lightning bug
  • fire station
  • foot-and-mouth disease
  • funny-bone
  • glasses – not spectacles or eyeglasses
  • green thumb
  • grill
  • gnat – not midge
  • goose bumps
  • gutters
  • guy – male only
  • hamburger
  • handbag
  • heap – old car
  • hideaway
  • high-rise (building)
  • hike – not ramble
  • house painter
  • icing
  • idiot
  • imagine – not guess (as in “I guess so”)
  • immediately – not straight away
  • jam – not jelly
  • jerk
  • label – not tag
  • lavatory – not bathroom or rest room
  • lawyer – not attorney, solicitor or barrister
  • life jacket
  • lollipop
  • lonely – not lonesome
  • lout – not oik
  • magician
  • mail
  • measuring cup
  • minister – not vicar
  • mongrel – not mutt
  • nail polish
  • napkin – not serviette
  • newspaper clipping
  • newsstand – not news agent
  • nuts – not crackers
  • nutty
  • pack of cards – not deck of cards
  • pantry
  • parka – not anorak
  • paper-wasp – not yellow jacket
  • patch together – not cobble together
  • pawn – not hock
  • pedestrian crossing – not crosswalk or zebra crossing
  • pharmacist
  • pharmacy – not chemist or drugstore
  • physiotherapist
  • plasterboard – not Sheetrock
  • play hookey
  • plum pudding
  • police line up
  • porch – not stoop
  • prison – not penitentiary
  • public swimming pool
  • pushups
  • quarter – not fourth
  • quotation marks
  • racecourse
  • rattle on
  • reform school
  • relic – not holdover
  • rubber boots
  • rummage sale
  • rumpus – not ruckus
  • running shoes – not sneakers, trainers or tennis shoes
  • Santa Claus
  • scuzzy
  • seesaw
  • senior citizen – not pensioner
  • shopping bag
  • shopping cart – not trolley or buggy
  • shopping centre – not mall or shopping plaza
  • shoulder – not verge (of a road)
  • slash – not oblique or stroke (the “/” symbol)
  • slice of bacon – not rasher
  • somewhere – not someplace
  • smitten – not besotted
  • sofa
  • soft drink
  • soil – not dirt
  • stands – at a sporting event
  • sticker – not decal
  • stockings – not hose
  • stopover – not layover
  • stove
  • stuffing – not dressing
  • sucker – not patsy
  • supermarket – not grocery store
  • sweater
  • swimsuit
  • tarpaulin – not tarp
  • tasteless – not tacky
  • theatre programme – not Playbill
  • thermos
  • timetable – not schedule (for buses and trains)
  • toll-road – not turnpike
  • tone-deaf – not have a tin ear
  • tramp – not hobo or bum
  • travelling salesman
  • trunk – not steamer trunk
  • TV
  • usual – not regular
  • vacuum cleaner – not Hoover
  • vending machine – not slot machine
  • waiter – not server (restaurant)
  • walking-stick – not cane
  • wary – not leery
  • wedding ring
  • wharf – not quay
  • while – not whilst
  • wrench – not spanner
  • yell – not holler
  • zero – not nil

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style guide: troublesome words

typewriter_jpg-288x300Words that have caused me the most trouble, here in their proper forms (mostly according to the Oxford dictionary):

  • adviser
  • Afghans
  • Aids
  • Al Jazeera
  • Al Qaeda
  • almost – not ‘most.
  • always
  • Antichrist
  • any more – always two words.
  • anyone – one word when it means the same as anybody.
  • anyway
  • archaeology
  • as, like – Use like to compare nouns, as to begin a clause.
  • Ashkenazic
  • atom bomb
  • Authorized Version
  • Benetton
  • Berne
  • between you and me me always follows prepositions.
  • BlackBerrys
  • blacks – the dark-skinned people from Africa and Australia.
  • Bombay
  • bookshop – not bookstore.
  • bottom – not butt, bum, ass, arse or rear end.
  • burka
  • Burma
  • Calcutta
  • Caltech
  • Caribbean
  • cinema – not movie theater.
  • Colombia
  • communist
  • Condoleezza Rice
  • defence – not defense.
  • dependant – one who is dependent.
  • dependent – depending on something else.
  • dialog box – when talking about computers, otherwise dialogue.
  • disc – like a compact disc.
  • disk – like a hard disk.
  • DJ
  • Dostoevsky
  • dot-com
  • East Timor
  • email
  • embarrass
  • encyclopedia
  • estate car – not station wagon.
  • film – not movie.
  • first-hand
  • first lady
  • forever – one word
  • full-time
  • gender, sex – sex is physical, gender social or grammatical.
  • ghettos
  • gram – an ounce is 28.35 grams.
  • guerrilla
  • hairdos
  • halfway
  • harass
  • hare-brained – not hairbrained.
  • hectare – equals 2.47 acres.
  • heroes
  • Hezbollah
  • hip hop
  • Hispanics
  • home-grown
  • home page
  • Internet
  • Ivory Coast
  • jewellery
  • kilogram – a pound is 0.4536 kilograms.
  • kilometre – a mile is 1.609344 kilometres.
  • kilowatt – a horsepower is 0.7457 kilowatts.
  • Koran
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Lao-tzu
  • licence – noun
  • license – verb
  • lie, lay – In the present you lie down or lay yourself down. In the past you lay down or laid yourself down.
  • lifetime
  • litre – a gallon is 3.785 litres.
  • Mac OS X
  • Maccabees
  • Madras
  • madrasa
  • maize – not corn.
  • make-up – what women put on their face.
  • may, might – see style guide on the subjunctive.
  • Maya – noun, meaning the language or people
  • Mayan – adjective
  • medieval
  • Mediterranean
  • metre – a foot is 0.3048 metres.
  • Michelangelo
  • millennium
  • millilitre – one fluid ounce is 29.57 millilitres.
  • misspell
  • mobile phone – not cellphone or handphone.
  • Moguls – once ruled India.
  • Muhammad
  • Musharraf
  • Muslim
  • NASA
  • Native Americans
  • NATO
  • Neoplatonism
  • New Year’s Eve
  • New York Times – “the” is not part of its name.
  • north-east
  • north-west
  • occurred
  • oestrogen
  • off – not off of.
  • offered
  • outgun
  • part-time
  • Pashtuns – they speak Pashto.
  • perform
  • Philippines
  • preferred
  • principle – a guiding idea
  • privilege
  • proceed
  • program – on a computer; otherwise it is programme.
  • prostitute – not hooker
  • R & B
  • recognize
  • referred
  • Romania
  • saditty
  • Samarkand
  • sceptic
  • Second World War
  • shall – no hard and fast rules. Use it where it sounds natural.
  • Shia – refers to a sect of Islam.
  • Shiite – a believer of Shia Islam.
  • short cut
  • soft drink – not soda, pop, coke or even fizzy drink.
  • south-east
  • south-west
  • sprang – is the past tense, but it is have sprung.
  • supersede
  • Tajikistan
  • Taliban
  • Tao-te-Ching
  • Tatars
  • taxi – not taxicab or cab.
  • telephone – not phone.
  • television – not TV or telly.
  • the Gambia
  • T.I. – the rapper
  • towards
  • tsar
  • Turkestan
  • Turkmens
  • Tutankhamen
  • Unix
  • up to date
  • URL
  • VH1
  • video game
  • Vietnam
  • Virgil
  • Wahhabi
  • Wal-Mart
  • Web, the
  • web page
  • website
  • whom – The uses of this word are changing. Use it only where it sounds natural.
  • Wi-Fi
  • yogurt

– Abagond, 2007.

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style guide: hyphens

typewriter_jpg-288x300The best rule about hyphens is that if you are unsure whether a word has a hyphen, look it up in a dictionary.

Yet, there are some general rules:

  1. In fractions: two-thirds, one-half.
  2. To put words together to make your meaning clearer: little-used car, little used-car.
  3. In the names of aircraft: DC-10, MiG-23.
  4. To make an adjective out of two or more words: right-wing party, five-year-old boy. But do not overdo it: a once-every-two-week meeting.
  5. To make a noun out of a verb with a preposition: build-up, lay-off, pay-off, round-up.
  6. Directions: north-east, south-west.
  7. Avoid with ranges. Use”to” instead of a hyphen for ranges: say “from 1965 to 1982” instead of “1965-82”. But if you must, say “in 1965-1982”.

Here are some common words that might cause trouble. Most of the list comes from The Economist but I changed them over to Oxford spellings since that is what I use:

ad hoc, agribusiness, air force, air power, airbase, aircraft carrier, airfield, airspace, airtime, antibiotic, Antichrist, anticlimax, antidote, anti-Semitic, antiseptic, antitrust, any more, arm’s length, Attorney General

bailout, bedfellow, bell-ringer, best-selling, bilingual, birth, blackboard, blue blood, blueprint, bookmaker, brother-in-law, build-up, businessman, buyout, bypass

call-up, cash flow, catchphrase, ceasefire, chief of staff, childcare, chock-a-block, clockmaker, coalminers, coastguard, codebreaker, comeback, commander-in-chief, common sense, cyberspace

deal-maker, director general, district attorney, dot-com, drawing board

email, endgame

faint-hearted, fallout, farmworker, field marshal, fieldwork, fig leaf, fine-tooth comb, first-hand, foothold, forever, fox-hunting, front line, front runner, fund-raiser

get-together, girlfriend, goodwill, gunrunner

half-hearted, hand-held, hand-picked, handout, hard line, headache, healthcare, heir apparent, hijack, hip hop, hobnob, home page, home-grown, home-owner, hothead

ice cream, infra-red, intergovernmental, Internet

kerb-crawling, know-how, kowtow

lacklustre, landmine, landowner, landowner, laptop, lay-off, lieutenant colonel, lifetime, like-minded, long-standing, loophole, lopsided, lukewarm

machine gun, machine tool, major general, metalworker, midweek, Midwest, minefield, multilingual, multiple

nationwide, Neoplatonism, nevertheless, news-stand, nitpicker, no one, no-man’s-land, nonetheless, nuclear power station

offline, offshore, oilfield, online, online, onshore, outgun, overpaid, overrated, override, overrule, overrun

pay-off, payout, peacekeepers, peacemaker, peacetime, petrochemical, policy-maker, post-war, pothole, pre-war, pressure group, prisoners of war, profit-making, pull-out

question mark

rain check, rainforest, rate, recreate, roadblock, round-up, Rustbelt

schoolteacher, seabed, Secretary General, set-up, shake-out, ship-broker, shipbuilder, shipowner, shortlist, shutdown, some day, soya bean, spillover, stand-alone, stand-off, start-ups, steelworker, stock market, streetwalker, strongman, stumbling block, sub-machine gun, subcommittee, subcontinent, subcontract, subhuman, Sunbelt

takeover, task force, tear gas, think tank, Third World War, threshold, time bomb, timetable, transatlantic, transpacific, troublemaker, turning point, turnout

under way, underdog, underpaid, underrated, undersecretary

vice versa, vice-president, videodisc

Wal-Mart, wartime, website, Wi-Fi, windfall, workforce, working party, worldwide, worthwhile


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style guide: punctuation

typewriter_jpg-288x300We use punctuation to help the reader to understand what we are saying. Commas and quote marks I covered separately. Here are the most common of the remaining cases:

apostrophe: ‘

Use ‘s to show possession, even if it ends in s:

Janis’s dog.

You only leave off the last s if you are adding ‘s to a word that is already a plural:

Reuters’, United States’

Do not use apostrophes when naming a decade or century:


brackets: []

If you are quoting what someone said, but need to add words to make the meaning clear, use brackets to add the words:

She said, “Let them [the poor] eat cake.”

If a full sentence is in brackets, put all punctuation inside the brackets.

colon: :

What comes after a colon explains or gives examples of what comes before the colon:

I have three weaknesses: wine, women and song.

He did not go home: the road was washed out.

commas: ,

See the style guide under commas.

dash: –

Use dashes to show an aside, to add something to what you are saying:

You know, I did not like him at all – he would never stop talking.

Use sparingly, even if Emily Dickinson loved them. In most cases a colon or comma will do just as well.

On the Internet a dash can be represented as a hyphen with a space before and after it:

It was horrible – I will never go back.

This is the BBC practice.

Others use two hyphens with no spaces around them:

It was horrible–I will never go back.

This is what The Economist does. Either is fine.

I have gone back and forth on this one, but I think the first is better since it always allows a space between each word.

full stops or periods: .

Use at the end of a sentence.

Do not use them at the end of abbreviations:

Dr Will was evil.

parentheses: ()

Put these around something added to a sentence that could be left out without changing its meaning:

I drove to Santa Fe (I was last there ten years ago) and then got some sleep.

You can put one or more sentences in parentheses if they are something the reader does not have to read.

If the parentheses includes a full sentence, then any punctuation it needs must also go inside. (Like this.)

question mark: ?

Put at the end of a sentence with a question, even if the question part is not at the end:

Where could he get a drink, he wondered?

quote marks: “

See the style guide under italics and quotes.

semi-colon: ;

Use this to join two sentences that could stand on their own, but would seem overdone if you did:

I found my dog; he was asleep under the car.

This is better than:

I found my dog. He was asleep under the car.

This makes the event seem overly important.

Use semi-colons sparingly.

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style guide: commas

typewriter_jpg-288x300Put in commas (,) to show the natural breaks in your sentence. This helps the reader to make sense of it, especially if it is long. It also lets your reader stop for a bit. But do not overdo it and put in too many commas: it will only lead to confusion.

When you reread and are in doubt about whether to take a comma out or put one in, leave the commas as they are. Whatever you put first is probably right.

Where to put commas can often come down to a matter of judgement and taste. Nevertheless, there are some clear cases where commas are needed. Here are the more common ones:

1. After each element in a list:

I love wine, women, and song.

The comma before the and is called an Oxford comma. The Oxford press and most Americans use it. The British, by and large, do not:

I love wine, women and song.

Either way is acceptable.

But if one of the things in your list has an and in it, then you must put a comma before the final and:

I like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Dead.

where “Simon and Garfunkel” is one of the elements of the list.

2. To separate the clauses in your sentence.

A clause is part of the sentence that has its own verb. There are two sorts of clauses:

  • A main clause, which can stand on its own as a sentence
  • A subordinate clause, which cannot

For example:

Feeling unloved, my dog ran away.

“My dog ran away” can make a sentence on its own: it is the main clause. “Feeling unloved” is not a sentence, but it does have a verb, so it is a subordinate clause.

Now notice where the comma was put: between the two clauses.

Subordinate clauses often have a verb ending in -ing:

Having paid for a room, he went out to see the town.

Subordinate clauses often start with words like but, yet, and, or, although, while, which and who. Put your comma before these words:

He got there on time, but he forgot to bring the ball.

Note: There are cases where you do not put a comma before which, who or whom. That brings us to our next rule:

3. Before which, who and whom – but not always!

If the which or who clause adds something that could be left out of the sentence without changing its meaning much, then makr it off from the sentence with commas:

My dog, who hates water, is a natural-born swimmer.

But if it tells us who or what the statement applies to, then do not put in commas:

The dog who never gives up will find his way home.

4. Before or after quoted speech.

She said, “I love you.”
“I never want to see you mother again,” she said.

The rules for this are a bit involved. See “Italics and quotes”.

Never put commas:

  • In dates: Tuesday May 22nd 2007
  • After question marks or exclamation marks.

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typewriter_jpg-288x300Names of an individual person, place or thing start with capital letters, as do any titles they may have:

  • President George Bush
  • Paris
  • Statue of Liberty
  • New York Times
  • “Pride and Prejudice.”

These are proper nouns. They each name one individual thing.

Common nouns name things in general. They do not start with a capital letter:

  • the president
  • city
  • statue
  • newspaper
  • book

A good example of the dividing line between common and proper nouns – and which words get a capital letter and which do not – is the word “Internet”. Some write it as “Internet”, others as “internet”.

Which one is right comes down to how you think of the Internet. If you think of it as one among many other computer networks, then you write “Internet”. But if you think of it as something general, like the sea or the air, then you write “internet”.

Another interesting case is God. To someone who believes in only one God, like Muslims and Christians, “God” is both a common noun and a proper noun at the same time: the word names something of which there is only one!

These also start with capital letters:

  • Trade names: Valium, Colgate, PlayStation, Coke
  • Periods in history: the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Black Death
  • Political parties: Labour, Democrats, Chinese Communist Party
  • Words made out of proper nouns: Marxism, Platonism, Buddhism, Americanization

So, “communist” is written with a capital when naming a political party – the “Chinese Communist Party” – but in lower-case otherwise: “The communists took over Poland.”

Sometimes there is no hard and fast rule. For example, people who are part white and part black in South Africa are called “Coloureds”. But when blacks in America were called that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was written “coloreds”. Today most American magazines write “blacks”, but some write “Blacks”.

If in doubt look the word up in a good dictionary. Or, as I sometimes do, search The Economist on the Internet to see what it does.

Sometimes there is more than one name or spelling or way to capitalize a name. For example:

  • NATO and Nato
  • Hezbollah and Hizbullah
  • Burma and Myanmar
  • Bombay and Mumbai

How do you choose?

  1. Use the form of the name that exists in the dictionary that you follow.
  2. If your dictionary does not have it, then write the name just as those whom it represents would write it in English. There is often a website where this can be found out.

Why not just follow second rule alone? Because it favours unfamiliar forms (that often change) over more familiar, established ones. Your aim in writing is not to be right, but to be understood. Following the dictionary form will help you to be understood.

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style guide: italics and quotes

typewriter_jpg-288x300On the use of quote marks and italics I follow The Economist.

Here are the rules in general (details to follow):

1. Use quote marks:

  • To quote what someone said word for word:

Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

For a quote within a quote, use single quotes:

Then he said, “The last thing I heard her say was ‘I am going to Victoria’s.'”

  • For the names of
  • books: “Odyssey” (but not for holy books: Koran, Genesis, Tao-te-Ching)
  • plays: “Romeo & Juliet”
  • television shows: “Big Brother”
  • films: “Casablanca”
  • works of art: “Pieta”

2. Use italics:

  • For foreign words: de jure, janjaweed, intifada
  • For the names of
  • newspapers: The Economist, The Times
  • magazines: Newsweek
  • ships: Titanic
  • lawsuits: Roe v Wade

You can also use italics to draw attention to a word. But it is much better to express yourself so that you do not need italics. Especially if you are writing for the Web where italics are often lost when what you write is copied or moved. When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress everything in italics was turned into small letters!

Although The Economist puts books and television shows and so on in quotes, in books you will see them put in italics. That is fine. But whichever way you choose, stick to it.

According to The Economist only two newspapers have “The” in their name: The Economist and The Times (of London). The rest do not: the Daily Mirror, the New York Times and so on.

In lawsuits the “versus” can be written as a “v” without any point after it: Roe v Wade.

If you are quoting a long passage from a book or article, instead of putting it in quotes, set it off from the body of your writing this way:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Make the letters smaller than your own writing. Do not put it in italics – they are hard to read for long.

Now to the most difficult part: does the punctuation go before or after the quote marks?

In general, if it was part of the original statement being quoted, then the punctuation goes inside the quote marks; otherwise it goes outside:

  • Then Diana asked me, “So are you going back to her?”
  • Did Diana really say, “Seth is a genius”?

In the first the question mark goes inside because Diana asked a question. In the second it goes outside because she did not – the person quoting her is – so it belongs on his side of the quote marks.

If you break up a quote by things like “he said”, then you put a comma at the break. The comma goes inside the quote if there was some punctuation at that point in the original statement, otherwise it goes outside:

  • “I think we will stop here,” he said, “Then we can get something to eat.”
  • “I think”, she said, “that you must go.”

That is the general idea. For more details see Hart’s rules.

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