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Sam Pollak

May 3, 2014

Some changes are just style over substance

Many of us who toil day after dogged day at our nation’s newspapers to do the work of the angels — informing a grateful public all about what we think it should know — have a profound interest in two books that have stood the test of time.

One revered book has been hallowed for generations, is filled with strict guidelines concerning what is expected of us each day and with admonitions against straying from the wise lessons set down in chapter and verse.

The other book is the Bible.

Unbeknownst to most people who read newspapers — and may their progeny be blessed — reporters and particularly copy editors have through the decades been guided by the tenets of The Associated Press Stylebook.

This tome has frequently been referred to as the newspaperman’s bible because it references word usage that might not be found in the dictionary — precisely Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which for some reason is the only one to have been given the Stylebook’s seal of approval.

As an example, you may have noticed that I capitalized “Bible” in the third paragraph, yet lower-cased it in two paragraphs later.

Well, the Stylebook made me do it that way.

“Capitalize, without quotation marks, when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament,” it says, not brooking any argument over the matter. It goes on.

“Lowercase biblical in all uses. Lowercase bible as a nonreligious term: ‘My dictionary is my bible.’”

If I were to stray from that or any other Stylebook policy, presumably the ground would swallow me up and I would descend into Hades where demons would tear at my entrails.

Since I’m quite fond of my entrails, I don’t often stray from Stylebook dogma.

Unless, of course, those Stylebook stormtroopers get ridiculous, as they have done recently, to the outrage of all guardians of the (American version of) the English language.

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Sam Pollak

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