Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guides for word nerds and language wranglers

Words to live and write by


Word nerds (like me) usually look askance at most tomes on writing and language. After all, pedantic autodidacts and over-educated sesquipedalians already know how to wrangle language and massage messages. Oh, occasionally something like the bestselling Eats Shoots and Leaves catches our collective fancy, but that was merely an amusement, a momentary distraction. Genuine lingo gringos unfailingly poo-poo prosaic word books as beneath them (or us). Unless it's our Bible — not the Pentateuch, but the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style (according to your faith) — why bother?

Here's a look at the latest edition of the holy word and a recent would-be contender.

Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Associated Press/BasicBooks. 465 pages. (Also available by online subscription and as an app for mobile devices.)

I've never heard it called by its proper name, but the "AP Style Guide'' is used by businesses and publications throughout the country. This new version caused a bit of a buzz when it was announced that "Website'' would no longer be capitalized. Trust me, this was a very big deal, though "Internet'' inexplicably remains capitalized. (Huh?) But a technical writer of my acquaintance was VERY excited about this quantum leap, as if her world was now a brighter and happier place. Such is the power of this humble volume!

This resource is used in newspapers throughout the English-speaking world as an authority on usage, punctuation, abbreviation and more. It's also a fixture in the dens and cubicles of Anglophone business writers and other scribblers throughout the planet seeking authoritative guidance in their use of language for legal writing, ads and marketing communications material.

This new edition of the Stylebook is also available online (by subscription, with site licenses and individual deals, too.) In addition, an app (a recent addition to the Stylebook, apparently) for iPhones, iPads and iPods is also offered. These electronic versions afford immediate access to updates, so if the AP ever decides to allow "Internet'' in lowercase, subscribers will be the first to know.
The Yahoo! Style Guide: Writing and Editing for the Web. Chris Barr. St.Martin's Press. 528 pages.

Though Google rules search, Yahoo's strategy of providing actual content as part of their soufflĂ© of search and aggregation is still in place. As such, they've become a bit of an authority on content creation, and their style guide is a very nice grab bag of tools, ideas and instructions. A lot of it is Copywriting 101-level fare; a far cry from AP's no-nonsense journalism, but even the most recalcitrant news-o will admit that writing for the Web requires a sharp, punchy prose style that's more tabloid than "Times,'' though accuracy and clarity still reign. It might be less hyperbolic than copywriting, but it still needs to sell — itself, at the very least.

For many writers, this style guide won't be anything new and it's certainly no replacement for AP's collection of golden standards, but for neophytes and others, this is a fine course.
Originally published in The Miami Herald