Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The Book: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STYLEBOOK AND LIBEL MANUAL, Fully Updated and Revised. Perseus Books trade paperback, 1998 (fifth printing). Good condition; pages are slightly age-browned, book shows signs of heavy use, including a damp thumbprint mark along front thickness of pages. Small stain on front cover may be dried coffee.
First read: 1990 (approximately)
Owned since: 1999 (this copy)

I interrupt today's post for news of a real emergency: I can't find my copy of The Elements of Style. This means that 1) the mess in my apartment has started to consume itself; 2) I lent it to someone and forgot; or 3) I took it with me on a trip and left it somewhere. My fingers and toes are crossed that it's #2. If I happened to lose my mind and lend this book to you, can you please let me know and return it as soon as you can? Thank you.

This book was one of my first work-related purchases when I moved to Los Angeles. The copy I'd used before belonged to my employer, and I was honest enough to leave it behind when I left Washington. But every professional writer needs a copy of this book, and most amateur writers will find it useful as well.

I prefer it to The Chicago Manual of Style, though most of my clients now say they prefer Chicago. The ugly truth is that most people have no idea what they're talking about when they say they follow a style manual.

Style manuals give writers guidelines for punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation and titles, among other things. Sometimes, when I fantasize about winning the lottery, I dream of photocopying pages 268-269 of this book (the entry on apostrophes) and handing it out as a flyer to every signmaker in the United States. I'd just drive around, correcting people's use of apostrophes. Like Johnny Appleseed, but I'd be Ellen Clair Apostrophe. Or maybe The Apostrophe Lady.

The world needs a grammar superhero. I know that a few regular readers of this blog are professional copy editors; Karen, Bill, Maureen, who would your superhero alter ego be? Ed? Anyone else?


Ed Lamb said...

I'd be WhoThat Man.

My mission would be restoring people's humanity one pronoun at time.

And my sidekick would be a young lass named That Which. She would backhand everyone who misused "which" just because they thought it sounded smarter than "that."

Offending, and hence offended, citizens would regularly misidentify my sidekick as "That B!tch."

-- Ed

Maureen said...

I already have a couple of superhero alter egos. I may need to do some thinking to come up with one that represents me most fully.

Our mutual friend once dubbed me the Slayer of Echoes, because I'm obsessive about changing infelicitous repetitions. That's not really a grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc., issue, but it's the single clearest indicator of sloppy writing/editing, in my opinion, to have all these repeated words when you're working with the English language (cue the harps and cornets), which has the deepest bench in the majors when it comes to vocabulary.

I've also been referred to as Ilsa, She-Wolf of the Personal Pronoun. I have a sneaking suspicion that there's a very bad how-to-write book out there somewhere that tells aspiring authors to refer to their characters by name as often as possible. If you are an aspiring author and own this book, burn it at once.

Hmmm . . . I could be the Serial Killer Killer. I would kill people who leave out the serial comma, because, as us (okay, we) copyeditors say till we cry from the boredom of it, "You often have to insert a serial comma for clarity, but you never have to delete one. So use it, author scum! Or I'll . . ." Well, you get it.

I do like this fantasy, as you can tell. Post seldom but verbosely, that's my motto.

AnswerGirl said...

I almost came to blows with a writing workshop classmate when he criticized my use of the serial comma. "I notice THE NEW YORKER doesn't use many commas any more," he said.

I notice he hasn't published that novel yet. Although, to be fair, neither have I...

Moira said...

This blog "The Abuse of Apostrophes" might make you feel better or worse.