Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why I love my job, part II

Why do I love my job? Well, it's almost midnight on a Saturday, and instead of trying to fit the news of the day into three lines of six counts each,* I'm at home with a glass of cheap-yet-funky Chilean carmenere, a cat wandering the perimeter,** the R&B show on the radio,*** and seventeen -- count 'em, seventeen -- assorted copies of the AP Stylebook sitting here on the floor.

That's not all the style guides in the house. That's nowhere near all the style guides in the house. But it is all the AP Stylebooks (1960-2009) I can put together, and it isn't a bad collection if you want to look at how the rules of news language evolve. Specifically, I'm interested in the "official" version of how the Middle East looks and how it's changed over the years.

Note the second deck**** shown here: Why would anybody writing heds for a newspaper in Illinois in 2010 begin a headline with a lowercase letter? Because ... um, Arabic! Everybody knows they're scary and devious and -- well, they lowercase everything, so we should too, isn't it?

Actually, no. Style doesn't (at least, it shouldn't) tell you to do something silly. But apparently it's suggesting that you do something contrary to common sense, and contrary to what you already know as an English-speaker. And that's the fun part of the project: Why do people make decisions like this, and what do they expect to do the next time?

* Which is a pretty good proxy for how I spent most Saturday nights from 1978 through 2003, if you're scoring along at home.
** Bernie. Woodchuck has called it a night.
*** Canadian hockey in the background. I'm still getting used to the lifestyle up here.

**** The second closed ballot box ("square bullet") in the example. We had a really good reading from the early 1940s the other night about ways of assigning importance to newspaper stories. I was OK with the terminology, in the way I can usually stagger through "whan that aprille" and all that, but I can see how it would mess with somebody born in 1987,



Blogger John Cowan said...

Actually "القاعدة‎" has neither upper nor lower case.

1:52 AM, October 31, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well at least you're watching proper hockey and not the Team Formerly Known As The Whalers.

2:25 AM, October 31, 2010  

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