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  • Shelagh Clancy

Thoughts from Across the Pond

The leader of Britain's House of Commons recently sent out writing rules to staff, the Guardian reports. Jacob Rees-Mogg sent out a list of banned words ("very," "due to," and ongoing," for example) and required styles (every male's name will be followed by "Esq.")

Sea Leaf Book Editing applauds the use of style guides because they create consistency. A style guide lets you know where the apostrophe goes and how to use it with names that end in "s." It lets you know whether to spell out ten or use the numeral 10. Sea Leaf typically uses Chicago style, a standard for novels.

But style guides are never written in stone, and most organizations have their own exceptions. Has Rees-Mogg gone a little overboard? Let's look at a couple of examples.

  • Mark Twain said, " Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." Why is this? "Very" is not needed. It drains your writing of vitality. The room isn't very dark-- it's dark. The circus Strong Man isn't very strong, he's strong. That's why they call him the Strong Man.

  • Why would he ban "yourself"? He probably didn't ban it entirely. This reflexive pronoun is often misused. It's not a fancier version of "you." In a nutshell, it should be used like this: Ernest gave himself a birthday gift. NOT Yourself and Ernest will attend the birthday lunch. (Just say "You and Ernest.") Catherine Travis walks you through this pronoun's use in an excellent piece on the Grammarly Blog.

Some of Rees-Mogg's advice is just silly. Two spaces after a period? A travesty! And Chicago style uses the so-called "Oxford" comma, also known as a serial comma, to avoid confusion. The illustration demonstrates how badly things can go without that comma.

Sea Leaf Books endorses the Oxford comma to preserve the integrity of the U.S. presidency.
Sea Leaf Books endorses the Oxford comma to preserve the integrity of the U.S. presidency.

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