Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Acknowledging the Inevitable

It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that I built a (not-very-lucrative) second career on hatred of the email spelling of e-mail, or to say that the peeve I petted the most was the mic spelling of mike.

But back in my first career, the one that pays the bills, it's not about me. And so, as my Washington Post colleagues and I prepared to move out of the building where I've worked for nearly 19 years, I decided this time of change would be a good time to propose some style updates. My bosses had no objection, so the change is coming. The following is from an e-mail (yes, I'm still using the hyphen on my own time) that I sent to the newsroom. The newsroom was, uh, pretty happy about it. It's probably safe to say this is the most popular e-mail I will ever send.

Important changes in Post style (effective Sunday)

Greetings! Just in case you don’t have enough upheaval to deal with in the coming weeks, we have some significant stylebook updates to announce. In some cases, we are catching up with changes that many other publications and news organizations have already made. We had good reasons for standing our ground, but usage goes where it wants to go, and the older practices were no doubt increasingly distracting to readers.

Please read over the following and incorporate them into your writing and editing effective with editions of the coming Sunday, Dec. 6.

No hyphen in email, emails, emailed, emailing, emailer, etc., in a change from long-standing Post style. Capitalize at the beginning of a sentence. Other e- formulations get hyphens: e-commerce, e-books, e-learning.

Use website, not Web site, in a change from long-standing Post style. Retain capitalization of Web when it’s used alone as short for World Wide Web. Also: Web page, not webpage, but webcam, webcast, webmail, webmaster.

website addresses
In short (the stylebook entry will be longer), there is no longer any need to use www. with Web addresses unless the prefix is required to make them work. We long ago discarded http:// -- again, except in the rare cases where a site did not work without it (it will sometimes be necessary to specify https:// when we’re talking about the secure version of a site that doesn’t automatically apply that prefix).

Not mike, in a change from long-standing Post style, as the short form for microphone. Try to avoid inflected verb forms, but use apostrophes and write mic’ed and mic’ing if they must be used.

Iraq War
Capitalize War, in a change from long-standing Post style. Use the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or similar wording to avoid juxtaposing a capitalized Iraq War and a lowercase Afghanistan war.

Use this spelling for the stores and, in general, the company and its affiliated entities. Post style is generally not to use corporate identifiers, but use the Wal-Mart spelling if it is necessary to spell out Wal-Mart Stores Inc.or any unit of the company that uses that spelling in official filings.

Use this spelling, without a space, except in formal references to Exxon Mobil Corp. (Post style is generally not to use Corp. and other corporate identifiers.)

TV and radio stations
We are relaxing our insistence on old-fashioned call letters and allowing the use of branded names such as NBC4.

they, their, etc.
It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.

When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.


M@ said...

The changes with Walmart and ExxonMobil reminded me to thank you for an excellent piece of editorial advice I picked up from you. (I'm not a paid editor but I work for next to nothing as an editor for a sports website.) I think you were writing about Yahoo and whether the exclamation point should be included; at some point you said, "You want a logo, buy an ad."

My department is Canadian football, for the last two years we've been dealing with a team that spells its name in all upper case letters (The Ottawa REDBLACKS). I've banned this blighted name from the site, and will only let it appear in normal title case. And when I'm asked for justification, I repeat, if they want a logo, they can buy an ad.

I don't know if I'm at all justified in doing this, but it feels good, and I have to thank you for it.

Jack Bush and Elaine Bell said...

I won't comment on whether the changes are good or valid or whatever, but I will say that you seem to now have created a good number of inconsistencies (e.g., "email" but "e-commerce").

Bill said...

Good luck with 100 percent consistency. If it's "reconnect," are we not allowed to hyphenate "re-discombobulate"? It it's "website" and "campsite," it has to be "constructionsite"?

Jack Bush and Elaine Bell said...

Sure, but if you leave it at "web site" and the equally correct "camp site", "construction site" is happy where it was.

Yam Erez said...

I think language evolution should necessarily be slow, and the self-appointed police should necessarily be conservative, and I think your proposed / dictated style changes are absolutely acceptable. Now can we work on inappropriate capping in your hallowed publication? Let's begin with the simple declarative sentence "View more comments", found throughout the WaPo's commenting boards. Except that it's written "View More Comments". Argh. Please send out a memo to the effect that over-capping reduces the stature of the offending publication to that of clickbait!

Magister said...

The singular they? Seriously? God help us (but only if the subjunctive is still allowed...).

Phil said...

My wife and I go to a watering hole named Billy's. The "'s" is part of the name. How would I refer to the menu that Billy's provides:
Billy's menu? Doesn't sound right, it sounds like it belongs to some guy named Billy.
Billy's' menu? Looks ridiculous.
Billy's's menu? Looks preposterous.
Or must I recast the sentence?


Bill said...

Sometimes there's only so much you can do. If you can't recast, then Billy's menu is just Billy's menu. The possessive does double duty.

I say things like "McDonald's's" in my own life, but it's not a valid style solution :-).