Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Style sheets reveal a newspaper’s true colours

One way newspapers make sense of an ever-changing, always-energetic language is to impose order through a style book.

This manual puts manners on the cacophony of rival spellings, abbreviations, vernaculars, new words, foreign translations and all the other elements of a language’s lexicon.

A lexicon, readers won’t need reminding, is not a physical thing, but is the entire word-stock of any language.

Simply put, and be warned I’m no expert, linguists see a language as having two main entities: grammar, which governs sentence formation — verbal and written — and the lexicon, which are the words and phrases used in those sentences.

But, as language is always changing and often contains contradictions and innovations, there may often be disagreement on the correct spellings, meanings, or contextual usages, of parts of the lexicon.

It would be irritating and downright confusing for readers to see a range of different spellings, or styles, dotted throughout a publication, so publishers have developed style guides, which can range from the correct use of language to laws governing typography and graphic design.

Most are as dull as dishwater, but newspaper ones can be quite fun, not just because they often deal with contemporary, or hot-potato political/cultural issues, but because they often reveal the personality of the paper.

To illustrate, a random gallop through the beginning of the Belfast Telegraph style book:

Acronyms: House style is upper and lower if you say it as one word. Eta, Nato and Uefa should be upper and lower. HIV, IRA etc are all upper.

al-Qaida: Our style — not Al Qadea, for example.

An: used before a word beginning with a vowel, or an h, if and only if the h is silent. So a hospital, a hotel, a historian, a hero, but an honorary degree.

Antichrist: One word — capital A.

anti-Christ: Small a, capital C — with hyphen.

Auld Lammas Fair: Our style.

Axing: Our style. Dictionary allows axeing as well — but axing is shorter.

Ayers Rock: We now use Uluru.

The last three, in particular, are quite interesting. My inner Glensman is absolutely insistent it should be Oul’ Lammas Fair. Some people say axing is an Americanism and ‘axeing’ is correct.

And Uluru instead of Ayers Rock? Sounds like a rare outbreak of political correctness on the Tele. I’ll bet that one is roundly ignored.

Feel free to inspect today’s edition for errors in any of the above.

But then, if you really feel the impulse to do that, perhaps you should, as they say in the lexicon of new universal English, get out more.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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