“berks and wankers
Kingsley Amis identified two principal groups in the debate over use of language: ‘Berks are careless, coarse, crass, gross and of what anybody would agree is a lower social class than one's own; wankers are prissy, fussy, priggish, prim and of what they would probably misrepresent as a higher social class than one's own.’”
David Marsh (ed.), Guardian styleguide – BNot for the first time I am writing a style guide.
Usually, my work involves adhering to other people’s prejudices, so it’s fun to dictate my own terms. Client X will, for example, henceforth write “focused” with one S and TARDIS in caps (as an acronym).
There’s no general consensus on style. Really. While correct spelling has been more or less agreed for hundreds of years, punctuation and phrasing is still largely a matter of taste. For every style guru who’ll insist on one rule, there’s another expert who’ll vehemently disagree.
Which can be a bit bothersome when you work for lots of people, all with their own ways of doing things. At least the style guides I’ve written so far have tended to start with a warning:
“What follows are not definite rules for written English everywhere. They’re just how we do things here...”Should it matter? Well, people do notice inconsistent and incorrect usage – and not just the finger-wagging wankers with their copies of one set of rules. If nothing else, inconsistency is distracting. People should be taking note of what you’re saying, not where you’ve used capital letters to say it.
When style does become an issue, it helps if the style guide can explain the reasoning. I like to think that my own bigotry-of-style at least stems from some rational first principles.
For example, I recently had to justify why we used double (“) quotation marks rather than single (‘) ones on a website I do stuff for.
“Double quotes are easier to read on a screen,”I said, which follows from our principle aim:
“Our copy is easy to read, accessible, consistent and does not distract the reader.”But there’s still fierce debate about the serial comma, which I think a fussy affectation. One colleague however protested,
“Readers need telling when to breathe!”There’s usually some kind of style council to arbitrate when copy-writers get into such an argument. As a result, style guides are often packed full of Top Facts, and give an insight into how reportage gets criticised and – sometimes –sued:
Alibis are not excuses
“If Bill Sykes has an alibi it means he did not commit the crime because he can prove he was somewhere else at the time. It is not a false explanation or an excuse.”
BBC News Styleguide (PDF 276kb), p. 78.Talks with Iranians
“The language spoken in Iran (and Tajikistan) is Persian, not Farsi. Flemings speak Dutch.”
John Grimond, Economist Style Guide – miscellaneous spellingAsylum seeker
Someone seeking refugee status or humanitarian protection; there is no such thing as a "bogus" or "illegal" asylum seeker. Refugees are people who have fled their home countries in fear for their lives, and may have been granted asylum under the 1951 refugee convention or qualify for humanitarian protection or discretionary leave, or have been granted exceptional leave to remain in Britain. An asylum seeker can only become an illegal immigrant if he or she remains in Britain after having failed to respond to a removal notice.”
David Marsh (ed.), Guardian styleguide - A(It’s reading this kind of thing more than my upbringing that got me 10/10 in Channel 4 News’s Easter quiz.)