Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Evidence the 'Chicago Manual of Style' and AP Are Conspiring to Make My Head Blow Up


I do a lot of copy editing for publications that follow Los Angeles Times style, which is just a slight variation on AP style. More recently, I’ve begun copy editing publications that follow the Chicago Manual of Style.

AP says not to use the serial comma, or Oxford comma: “The flag is red, white and blue.”
Chicago (and most English teachers) say to use it: “The flag is red, white, and blue.” That difference tests my attentiveness on a daily basis. But it’s the little things—the curve balls—that are most likely to give me an aneurysm. Here are some terms that have come up in both my AP-style client's work and in my Chicago-style client's work:
shower head/showerhead
AP’s default dictionary, “Webster’s New World College Dictionary,” says it’s two words. Chicago’s default dictionary, “Merriam-Webster” says it’s one.
health care/healthcare
When I’m copy editing for my magazine client, I have to remember to use “health care." For the newspapers, it’s “healthcare.” Again, that’s because of their fallback dictionaries. Merriam-Webster says it’s two words. Webster’s New World has “healthcare” as one.
nightlife/night life
In Chicago it's one word. In AP it's two.

And don't even get me started on underway and under way.


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10 comments:

Blackwell said...

I don't know how you manage to keep that straight. As much as I loved copy editing in college (as part of my production hours, as opposed to paste-up and other grueling tasks), I realized that I would never cut it as a professional.

Hey, why do Merriam-Webster and Webster's New World hate each other? Was there a messy divorce at some time in the past?

Joel said...

Holy crap.

There was a time in my life when I thought I might want to be a professional copy editor--even just for the love of the language. You're making me thankful that I accidentally chose other things. That's the kind of thing that would make me really selective about my potential employers.

On the plus side, from this side of the cage, it's interesting, and even liberating, since no one's checking most of our work for strict conformance and we can--as you often recommend--pick one and run with it (thanks again for that, BTW :-) ). I just can't imagine having to keep stuff like that straight. It's bad enough when one has to keep up with one standard (heck, I have a hard enough time just being consistent in my own writing, if we're being really honest). . . .

June Casagrande said...

"Paste up"? I haven't heard that in years. I'm old enough to remember that. Good times. Good times.

I don't know whether Merriam-Webster and Webster's New World had a messy divorce, but if they did, I'd bet my life it was because Merriam-Webster was running around like a hussy.

June Casagrande said...

If keeping them straight were a requirement, I'd be working at McDonald's right now.

I don't keep 'em straight. I look them up -- over and over and over.

But even if the style guides/dictionaries agreed on stuff, I'd still be looking them up. No one in the biz even tries to commit it all to memory. Especially because stuff changes so often. I'd bet anything that WebNewWorld only recently decided "healthcare" is one word.

Looking stuff up all the time is a little tedious. But it is, quite literally, the job. They need people to double-check their work. So that's what they pays me for. (Though, clearly, not enough.)

Joel said...

Ha, I remember paste up. I was just discussing it with a friend. Ok, kids, back in the day, we had to type our copy with a real typewriter (at least the typewriters were electric--but for those of us who didn't type well, the journey began even earlier with a handwritten version) and a good bit of white out and then drive it over to a typesetter. Our often-mangled sheets would return to us in beautiful, shiny rolls. We got to chop them up, slather them with wax, sometimes mark them up with special little blue pens. Then we'd arrange them on a page, often augmenting them with cool little lines (in various widths and styles) that came as rolls of tape. Yeah, those were the days when a "photo shop" was a dark room where one got to mess with dangerous chemicals. Sigh. It was a wonderfully tactile and olfactory experience. It could also be quite loud. Much rock and roll was blared over cheap boom boxes.

Headline writing--that was fun too. Because of the disjointed process (yaknow, with the offsite typesetter), we had to count up the points and calculate the length of our pithy summaries to make sure they'd fit snugly in the allotted space. No WYSIWIG for us, no sir.

Grueling? No, grueling was dealing with deadlines. Paste up was a carnival. I'm still dodging (and quite often transgressing) deadlines.

Paste up was one of the highlights of my high school education. We even got away with staying up late (typically til between 2 and 4 in the morning). Caffeine was consumed in large quantities. Occasional shenanigans occurred. Indeed, paste up is pretty much how I hooked up with my wife. I still have galleys from the independent paper we did when the teachers went on strike and our school's administration confiscated our imminent publication, I guess because they thought it posed some kind of danger.

I'm not even sure kids these days know what a typesetter is.

June Casagrande said...

Hmmm ... I'm feeling a little embarrassed on account of I seem to be the only one who didn't go to journalism school.

At least I'm a member of the siblinghood of I-had-an-electric-typewriter.

I remember that the local grocery store near my college carried ink ribbons. And, ahh, the smell of Wite-Out.

Joel said...

To be clear, I didn't go to journalism school either, though I briefly considered it. I'm just blessed to have had an outstanding newspaper adviser in high school. Plus, we were at a new school my wife's senior and my junior year, so we got to establish some traditions (and, like I said, get away with some stuff). There were two other high schools in town with good papers. And our town was the home of the state's major liberal arts university with a decent journalism program.

I wrote one or two articles for the college paper but by then I had a family and a job and had been seduced by literature and such. Frankly, I thought my high school paper was better than the paper at the college I attended. And they've continued a tradition of winning awards and kicking journalistic ass.

Sigh. I remember when I was going to be the next Mike Royko. Our paper was even called the "Sun Journal" (not that the name had been my idea). Here's something else that will date me: I remember when Geraldo Rivera was an actual journalist, when he did hard news, real news, before he jumped the shark with that Capone business and the talk show and all of that other crap. Damn it all. He had been one of my heroes for a while too; I can't even imagine where he was hiding all of that crazy.

June Casagrande said...

10-4. (That's how old I am. I remember people saying "10-4." Often punctuated with "Good buddy.")

But tell me: Do you REALLY not know where Geraldo could have been hiding all that crazy? Is there NO part of him that's so conspicuous and ridiculously oversized that it doesn't scream "Secrets 'stashed' here"?

But seriously, the man could have a Gucci trunk full of monkeys and librium capsules on his lip and he'd still be saner than the smaller-stashed John Stossel any day.

Blackwell said...

::sigh:: I actually was never on our school's newspaper (managing editor of the online publication (NOT newspaper, nor magazine) I was), but once I got suckered into it. We were right at the transition from physical to digital paste up, so all the glory was gone. Oh, and by my senior year, the black room was gone, too, replaced by a developing machine and negative scanners.

One of the many reasons I decided journalism wasn't for me (nothing like The Cat Who... books).

Anyhoo, you say you always look things up because you can't remember, but my problem (the realization that sent me down the teaching and librarian road) was that I can't remember *what* I need to look up! I just go about my merry business assuming that to-morrow is hyphenated because that's the mood I'm in.

June Casagrande said...

Hmmm. I think we're starting to see why I'm no longer a reporter. I'm factually challenged (inferentially challenged?).

I wonder if they teach that in J-school. You know, how "to assume" makes a not-good-reporter out of "u" and "me"?

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