One says it should not be necessary, but it is very obvious all round the Guardian office that uncomfortably many people involved in producing and shaping text for the paper rely more on the casual question, ‘What’s the style for x?’ and the casual answer, ‘I think it’s probably y.’ Journalists who are not sufficiently interested in house style to check the house style guide are not on the face of it very likely to be much interested in style at all.
House style is the means by which a newspaper seeks to ensure that where there are permissible variants in spellings, the use of acronyms and so forth, a unified approach to these matters is adopted to help in disseminating a sense of rationality and authority in the use of language. What it does not mean is imposing a unified writing style on the newspaper.
The Guardian style guide is an alphabetic list of common misspellings, misnomers and misuses. Here’s a few highlights from A:
- include all accents on French words (but not anglicised French words such as cafe; exception: exposé, to avoid confusion with expose), and umlauts on German words. Do not use accents on other languages
- plural addendums not addenda
- to make worse, not to annoy
- Albright, Madeleine
- former US secretary of state; Mrs Albright, not Ms, after first mention
- not amuck
One particular area the style guide disagree on is the capitalisation of World Wide Web, the Web, the Internet and the Net. In 1996, Tim Berners-Lee said the Web should be capitalised to distinguish it from a spider’s web. Nowadays, the Guardian and the Times say all lower case; the Economist says to capitalise as does Carnegie Mellon. All the newspapers agree that website should be one word and lower case; Carnegie Mellon says it should be Web site. Personally I swing the capitalisation way.